Happy Circumcision of Jesus!
Don't think I don't know what you're up too. Don't think I don't know that you'll be up past midnight tonight. You'll be making toasts, kissing loved ones, and making noise. Yes, you'll laugh and party tonight and tomorrow because January 1 is the Circumcision of Jesus. January 1 is a legal holiday, a day of football games and parties all because Jesus was circumcised on that day. Not hardly; the world doesn't care about events in the life of Jesus, but for 8 centuries the Church has celebrated January 1 because that's the day Jesus was circumcised and named. The 1982 hymnal Lutheran Worship added Dec. 31st to keep up with the world. It recognizes the world's holiday by calling our service "New Year's Eve," and it acknowledges the Church holiday by calling it "Eve of the Name of Jesus."
None of this liturgical schizophrenia for us. We focus on the circumcision of Jesus. Why? Because the circumcision of Jesus teaches us about the utter depths of our sin. To us, circumcision is just a medical procedure advised by some doctors for health reasons. But that's not why God had commanded circumcision in the Old Testament. There it was a sign given to Abraham.
Why in the world did God choose to mark His people by cutting the foreskin off the male organ? God could've marked His people with tattoos on the hand, arm, leg, or head. In fact, God didn't have to mark the body at all. He could've commanded the use of particular colors or kinds of clothing. But He didn't; He marked the male organ.
Luther explained it this way. If God had ordered the hand or tongue be cut, that would've indicated the source of our sin was in the hand or tongue, that is, in our words and deeds. It would've indicated that God was basically pleased with our natures; He just had problems with our words and works. But God didn't mark the hand or the tongue but that part of the body whose function is procreation. He chose the organ that generates our human nature thereby showing that the problem is with our whole nature.
Don't you see folks? Our problem is not that we commit this or that sin; our problem is not how many sins we do. Our problem is that our very nature is sinful, fallen, polluted, corrupted, ruined. If our problem really was sins we do, then New Year's resolutions could take care of it. I could resolve to stop my outbursts of anger. I could resolve to stop eating too much, driving too fast, loving too little, and couch-potatoing too often. New Year's resolutions to change outward behavior can be very effective against outward sins.
But that's not our real problem. It's our very origins that are ruined. We were damned sinners the moment we came into existence. We came into the womb separated from God. That's why we commit so many sins; that's why we have lived like we were separated from God this year though we resolved at the end of 2000 to be different in 2001. Because our natures are fallen, the same sins that dogged us in 2000 were dogging us in 2001. O we may have quit for awhile the obvious outbursts of sin, but still in our very nature, in our very being, in a place we can't reach, there was still the lust for drink, for food, for sex outside marriage, for murder, for money, for much more. The problem wasn't in our hand, tongue, legs, arms, or even heart. It was in our origin.
The Circumcision of Jesus teaches us about the depths of our sinfulness; that's one of the reasons the Church marked January 1. Another reason is that the Circumcision of Jesus shows the depths that God was willing to go to save us. We've already seen that we're so far down that no New Year's resolution, no vow to be different, no promise to try harder, no human plan or strength can reach us. We're so far down that only God can reach us. The Circumcision of Jesus shows us that God did reach us. At that time Joseph actually named the Child of Mary as the angel told him to; he named Him Jesus. Jesus means "Jehovah saves." Throughout the Old Testament, Jehovah had told Israel, "I'm coming for you." Jehovah who walked with Adam in the Garden, met Abraham at Mamre, talked with Moses at Sinai, shepherded David, and spoke in a still small voice to Elijah was coming to a virgin to be born in Bethlehem. The circumcision of Jesus is the public announcement that Jehovah has arrived.
Friends, your sins of 2001 and the temptations that await you in 2002 are too big, too difficult, too serious for you to handle. You have no chance against them. The great Jehovah Himself is going to have to deal with these things for you. At the circumcision, when Jesus is publicly named, that's when we find out Jehovah is on the scene to save. It's true; the angels told the shepherds and the shepherds told others that Christ the Jehovah was born, but circumcision was a ceremony done at a public synagogue by a rabbi. Everyone is told Jehovah is here to save. Just like He had promised He had ripped the clouds and came down out of heaven. He who is wrapped in clouds impenetrable, in light unapproachable, and in fire unquenchable, showed all of Himself, literally, at His circumcision. The unapproachable was approached by a rabbi and taken into sinful hands. Fire burned no one; lightening struck no one; gurgles and coos and soft baby noises were the only things that came from Jehovah.
But it's not just that Jehovah showed Himself to the world at His circumcision, He also began His work of saving us. He actively started fulfilling the law in our place. Jehovah in the flesh obeyed His own law that every male Jew be circumcised on the 8th day. By submitting to this Law, Jehovah was obligating Himself to keep the entire Law. What depths Jehovah in the flesh went to save us!
Maybe this doesn't strike you as being all that deep. It should. Parents have all sorts of rules for kids that they don't keep themselves. Kids have to be in bed at a certain time; parents don't. Kids can eat only certain foods, not parents. Kids don't have a choice as to whether or not they pick up after themselves, parents do. What if one day a father told his kids that he would live under the exact same rules they were bound to keep? He wouldn't watch the shows they couldn't watch. He couldn't eat or drink what they couldn't. Their bedtime was his; their obligations were his.
This is what Jehovah did for us. He humbled Himself by putting Himself under our laws. But in His case, it wasn't merely a parent putting himself under his kids rules, it was Deity putting Himself under rules for humanity; God putting Himself under laws meant for men; the Creator placing Himself under laws He had made for creatures. If you would feel humbled going to bed by 8, having to eat all your vegetables, and watching only G rated films, how much more did Jehovah humble Himself to keep all the commandments He had given to us?
But Jehovah didn't only lower Himself to the point of keeping the laws meant for us. That only would have been half of the solution to our deep problem. Jehovah even went so far as to suffer the punishment us breakers of the law deserve. At His circumcision, on only His 8th day of life outside of the womb, Jehovah began paying for our sins. It's a mistake to confine Jesus' suffering for our sins to the last days of His life. When He was just 8 days old, the knife cut Him and He cried in pain. He was cut, not because it was more sanitary to be circumcised, but because He bore our sins.
When little Baby Jesus, Jehovah in the flesh, was cut, He bled. This blood covered our sins. This blood paid for our transgressions. This is the very same blood that washes us in Baptism, and we drink in the Holy Communion. The blood of a Baby Boy at His circumcision, not just the blood of a full grown Man at Calvary is what forgives our sins, covers our guilt, and renews our lives.
The circumcision of Jesus really is worth celebrating more than the New Year is. People celebrate New Year's in thanks for the old and in hope for the new. But thanking or hoping does nothing about 2001 or 2002. The circumcision of Jesus does something about both. Hard to believe, huh? In weather this is called the Butterfly Effect. It was discovered after an 18 year study of the accuracy of weathermen's rain predictions. A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that weather is shaped by such complex forces that the minute swirl of air caused today by a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo could set off a cascade of delicate atmospheric changes, each amplified by the next, that determines if it rains in New York City 2 weeks from now.
The apparently small event of Jesus being circumcised also has such worldwide effects. The little drops of blood Jesus shed in His circumcision in 0 A.D. covered your sinfulness and your sins of 2001. I don't care what those sins might have been: murder, abortion, child abuse, drunkenness, fornication, homosexuality, gluttony, greed, worry, poor parenting, lazy working, or rotten church membership. You name it; whatever your sins of 2001, the blood Jesus shed at His circumcision is enough to cover all of them.
So friends you don't have to look back on 2001 second guessing yourself to death, wishing you had done this that way or that this way. You don't have to wallow in guilt over how badly or how often you let your spouse, your Lord, your family down. You celebrate at the end of 2001 Jesus spilling His blood so that you can bury all of 2001 under it. His blood is that thick, that rich, that holy to completely cover all of 2001.
The circumcision of Jesus some 2002 years ago also impacts the coming year. We don't know what 2002 holds. There could be more world or economic upheavals. Sickness or death might come calling. Our marriage or family life could be severely strained. 2002 may be a brand new baby tomorrow, but even by week's end he could be a tried, old man, a burdened middle-aged man, or a young man deathly ill.
The circumcision of Jesus assures us that our fate is not in the hands of a baby named 2002. It's in the hands of the Baby Jesus who is none other than Christ the Lord, Jehovah in our flesh and blood. Our fate is in the hands of the God who became Man, became a little Baby to save us. What will happen to us in 2002, health or heartbreak, triumphant or tragedy is not up for grabs; it's not a roll of the dice; it's not a gamble. What will happen to us in 2002 is firmly in the hands of the God who didn't spare His hands or feet or any other part of His body but gave up all of Himself for us.
Happy circumcision of Jesus folks! It's a day worth celebrating. His circumcision means both 2001 and 2002 are years of the Lord. That's what the A.D. stands for after the date. It's Latin for Anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord." Both this past year and the coming year belong to the Lord; He has bought both. You have no right to rummage around in what no longer belongs to you. You have no right to go back in 2001 to rummage through your guilt. That belongs to Jesus now not you, and you have no right to go ahead in 2002 to worry about what's coming. Nope, Christ paid for 2002 and only gives you it one day at a time. But you can be sure the One who put Himself under the Law and shed His blood for you on the first day of the year will do His best for you on the other 364 days. Happy 2002! Happy Circumcision of Jesus! Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eve of the Circumcision of Jesus (12-31-01); Luke 2:21