Saved from The Common Era
As you know, I prefer to follow the historic Calendar of the Church rather than the secular calendar of the world around me. In other words, rather than this being New Year's Eve as it is for the world around me, in my mind this is the Eve of the Circumcision of Jesus. Jesus born into the Old Testament Church was circumcised and given His name on the 8th day after His birth which would be New Year's Day. If you look on page 3 of The Lutheran Hymnal in the pew, published in 1941, you will find the calendar has no service appointed for December 31. There is one for January 1, "The Circumcision and the Name of Jesus" and then in parentheses, "(New Year's Day)." If you look on page 9 of Lutheran Worship published in 1982, you'll find January 1 is known first as New Year's Day and only secondly as The Circumcision of Jesus, and a service has been added on December 31. It's called "New Year's Eve," and then in a secondary sense "Eve of the Name of Jesus."
Is all of this is merely about dates and names of festivals? No, this is about the common culture overrunning the Church. My goal is to save you from the common culture. If this is not a laudable goal to you, it's because you have been raised in America where the distinction between commoners and royals is not only not used but often offensive. But you my dear friends are not commoners. You are royals, sons and daughters of the Most High God, born not of perishable seed but of the imperishable Seed who is Christ. You live in the Year of the Lord Jesus, that is A.D.; you don't live in C.E., that is the Common Era.
Unless you've been in school since 1989 or read history publications, you might not have known that the world around us is refusing to continue to set time from the birth of Christ. Non-Christians have taken offense to A.D., Anno Domini which is Latin for "in the year of the Lord" being on everything from coins, to government documents, to public school textbooks. The State of Maryland began in 1989 removing A.D. from their marriage licenses. You won't find a recent textbook dating things B.C., "before Christ" or A.D. "in the year of the Lord." They will use B.C.E., Before Common Era," and C.E., Common Era. Understandably so, non-Christians don't want to think of themselves as living in the year of the Lord Jesus. We Christians of course glory in the fact that we do live in a year of the Lord Jesus and not just in some common era.
Can you see that using the designation CE is a total dismissing of Jesus Christ? Everything is still dated from His arrival in the world, but the world doesn't want any reference being made to Him. 2002 is just the way people commonly date things, as if no one knows what they're dating things from. As far as I know, this has never been done before. In ancient times people dated things from the beginning of a city or a royal dynasty. Even science fiction always dates things from something. In the series Star Trek things are suppose to be dated from America's first landing on the moon, July 20, 1969. It's only thoroughly modern man, who would rather pretend to date things from nothing than refer to Jesus.
I'm trying to rescue you from being commoners adrift in a Common Era with no point of reference, or worse with your point of reference being the world around you. You are royal people of royal seed. Your watches are to be set to heavenly standard time not central standard time. You began your year when John the Baptist came preaching in the Gospel, "Prepare the way of the Lord; the Kingdom has arrived." You began your year on the First Sunday of Advent when you again heard that Jesus was coming. You were reminded once again that you are AD, i.e. in a year of the Lord. Don't plunge yourself back into the Common Era.
Maybe an illustration will help. Have you noticed how many Protestant churches don't have services on Christmas Day but those same churches will have services on Fourth of July? Now friends, it's not sinful to have a service on July 4th or any other day of the year, but by having one on July 4th a church is plugging into the American culture and psyche. But not only does such a church plug into the society around her, she also plugs her people into that society. Likewise with New Year's Eve services. Having begun our year almost a month ago, should we reset our watches from Church time back to world time? Should we who are kings and queens, co-regents with Christ Jesus mark time like the common people of the world?
I think most Christians once they grasp the royal concept of the Church Year come to like it. They don't mind being unplugged from the world around them. They don't mind that they step to a different drummer than the world around them. They don't mind being taken from the arms of the baby of 2003 and placed into the arms of the eternal Christ-Child.
Isn't that a comforting thought? Unlike the world around us who connects today with a cute baby wearing a sash that says 2003, we Christians connect the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another to the Babe in the manger who is born to save us. As Charles Wesley said in his 18th century hymn for the Nativity, "Those Infant hands shall burst our bands/ And work out our salvation;/ Strangle the crooked serpent,/ Destroy his works forever,/ And open set the heavenly gate/ To every true believer." While the commoners living in their common era are placed into the hands of a babe that ages faster than they do, we are placed into the hands of the eternal, all powerful, God.
But then comes the festival of the circumcision of Jesus and the Baby Jesus starts to look all too human, all too weak, all too ordinary. Part of the reason the culture of the common era has overran the Church replacing the festival of the Circumcision of Jesus with the celebration of the New Year is because the circumcision of Jesus is somewhat of an embarrassment. Not only is it attractive to be on the same page in church as you are in the world, it's down right unattractive to think of the circumcision of Jesus. You see a poor homeless family having a Baby in a stable can be worked into the "good will" among neighbor's theme that every culture has at the end of the year. And the wise man coming from afar fits in nicely with the common people thinking of the New Year as a new start, a new quest. But the circumcision of Jesus just doesn't fit in anywhere.
You are never going to find a Christmas display in or outside of the Church with something representing the Circumcision of our Lord. It is not only uncommon, it's unheard of to introduce the circumcision of Jesus into Christmas, and that's precisely why we keep this holy festival. We are not interested in being common but being the royals that we are in Christ. We who have been saved from the common era revel in the things that have rescued us.
The circumcision and naming of Jesus summarizes succinctly these things. First, it shows us that Jesus came to stand under the Law for us. The Old Testament Law commanded that every male be circumcised on the eighth day. By being circumcised, Jesus was being obligated to keep the whole Law as Paul says in Galatians. Jesus is placed under all the "thou shalls" and "thou shall nots." All the "do's" and "don't's", all the "have to's" and "must's" and "ought's" were placed upon Jesus. The name given to Him at His circumcision lets you know what Jesus did with this heavy burden. Jesus means "Jehovah saves." The only way Jesus could save sinners under the Law is by keeping the Law. This Jesus did. He kept all the shall's and shall not's, all the dos and don'ts, all the ought's and had betters.
You who feel like a whole laundry list of commands, demands, and oughts await you in 2003, think again. You who think God will follow you around in 2003 with a check list of all the things you had better do, achieve, or accomplish, think again. Jesus took upon Himself all the obligations of men, women and children when He was circumcised. Do you think He failed to fulfill, to meet, to exceed them? The Circumcision of Jesus will not allow us to think that there is a list of things we had better do before we can ever claim heaven as our own. The Circumcision and Naming of Jesus shouts in our ears: Done, Done, Done. Every single Law, demand, or command of God that needs to be kept before you can go to heaven has been already kept, fulfilled, and met by Jesus.
Of course, the year of the Lord 2003 might not be that much on your mind. You're preoccupied with the year of the Lord 2002. What a mess you made in that year! How you let people down! How you hurt people! How you sinned in the same ways you said were done with in 2001! 2003 looks bleak because you're despairing over what you did in 2002. The Circumcision of Jesus helps here too.
By this festival we are reminded that we are placed into the arms of a Baby who suffers, cries and bleeds for us. Circumcision is neither painless nor bloodless. This is the first time our Lord and Savior shed His holy blood for us. Without the shedding of Blood there can be no forgiveness of sins, says God in Hebrews, but He also says there that the blood of goats and bulls never took away anyone's sins. Only the Blood of a Man who is God can take away sins because only the blood of a God/Man is thick enough and rich enough to cover our sins.
Go ahead take one last look at 2002. See your sins sticking up here and there showing just how wretched you really are. See how you have shamed and disowned your Lord. See how you have lived as a common sinner in the year of your Lord Jesus. Now see Jesus being circumcised and His Blood dripping down over your life. One teeny, tiny drop of the Blood of God covers the sins of the entire world, but your God sheds His Blood both at His circumcision and on the cross to flood your life with forgiveness. Look back at 2002 now. Not one sin, not one shortcoming, not one shame can poke its ugly head through. Yours sins of 2002 are forgiven, forgotten.
You know what commoners do on this night? They use parties, people, food and drink to make them forget 2002 and look forward to 2003. But you're not commoners; you're royals. You're parties at this time of year have people, food and drink, but since you live in a year of the Lord, your parties are celebrations of Him and what He did for you in 2002 and will do for you in 2003. You don't party to forget or pretend; you party because you remember Jesus and His promises. It would be so very common for royals like you to feel guilty over the past or fret over the future that Jesus your King has said He has and will take care of. The whole point of Jesus being Circumcised was to save you from having to live under the fear and guilt that are common to sinners of every era, but not found in any year of the Lord. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eve of the Circumcision of Jesus (12-31-02), Luke 2:21