The Circumcision and Name of Jesus + Luke 2:21 + January 1, 2017


O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth,
                Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
What is man that You are mindful of him,
                And the son of man that You visit him? (Psalm 8:1, 4)
You, O Lord, are our Father;
               Our Redeemer from everlasting is Your name.
O Lord, why have You made us stray from Your ways, and hardened our heart from Your fear?
               Return for Your servants’ sake, the tribes of Your inheritance.
Your holy people have possessed it but a little while;
              Our adversaries have trodden down Your sanctuary.
We have become like those of old, over whom You never ruled,
              Those who were never called by Your name. (Isaiah 63:16b-19)
O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the | earth,
                Who have set Your glory above | the | heavens!
What is man that You are mindful of him,
                And the son of man that You visit  him? (Psalm 8:1, 4) 

Collect for the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
O Lord God, Who for our sakes hast made Thy blessed Son, our Savior, subject to the Law and caused Him to endure the circumcision of the flesh, grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit that our hearts may be pure from all sinful desires and lusts; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect for the New YearAlmighty God, our Heavenly Father, we give Thee humble and hearty thanks that Thou hast preserved us during the past year from all evil, and bestowed upon us all manner of good, and dost now permit us to enter into a new year; and we pray that it may please Thee mercifully to crown the same with Thy goodness, to bless us and our households with Thy heavenly gifts, and to grant and preserve unto us whatsoever is necessary for our bodily wants, to avert from us all calamities and evils, and to make this to be unto us a blessed, peaceful, and happy year; for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, our only Savior, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

Isaiah 55:1-13
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 2:21 

Sermon on the Holy Gospel and Epistle Lessons

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         On the eight day of Christmas the child of Mary is circumcised and given the name Jesus, the name given to Mary and Joseph before His conception. The circumcision of Jesus is much more than a bland historical event with no real importantanc. This is one of the most important days in the life of Jesus for us. By being circumcised on the eighth day, the child of Mary is incorporated into the children of Israel. Already on His eighth day He fulfills the requirement of the Divine Law. Not only does He fulfill this one requirement though. By accepting circumcision according to the Law, Christ becomes liable for the entire Law. St. Paul writes in Galatians 5:3 that “every man who becomes circumcised is a debtor to keep the whole law.” Jesus places Himself under the Law so that every commandment, every statute, and every ordinance becomes His responsibility. The burden of complete holiness of heart, mind, body, and soul, is placed upon the Christ child as His burden to bear. He accepts this burden willingly. Jesus walks the way of Moses perfectly in the external things Moses commanded. Jesus attended the required Feasts in Jerusalem, observed the Sabbath, didn’t trim the corners of His beard and only ate that which the Lord told Israel to put in their mouths. But that is the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. Christ fulfilled the Law by perfectly walking in love for God His Father with all His heart, soul, and strength. Christ truly loved His neighbor as He loved Himself. The Law says in Leviticus 11:45, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” and Jesus says, “Alright. Holy then I will be.” By being circumcised on the eighth day Jesus fulfills the Law in one point and shoulders the burden of the Law in every point externally according to the mode of life, and internally according the heart.

2)         And what is the purpose of Christ’s walking in the way of Moses, fulfilling the entirety of the Divine Law? By doing the Law perfectly, externally as well as internally, Christ fulfills the Law. He tells us so much in Matthew 5:17 when He says, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” And this fulfillment of the Law is not for Himself, but accomplish our adoption as Sons of God. Being children of those sinners Adam and Eve, we cannot fulfill the Law. We could perhaps look like we fulfill the Law, but an external righteousness is only that of the Scribes and Pharisees. We can never be holy as God is holy because our hearts are by nature sinful and unclean. We could never love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength, because we devote our heart, soul, and strength to ourselves, our possessions and reputations, and our selfish desires, making those things our gods. Christ fulfills the Divine Law not for Himself, but for we who cannot, by nature, fulfill the Divine Law in the least bit. Paul writes that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). He fulfills the Law in every tiniest bit to free sinners from the curse of the Law which condemns those who do not fulfill the Law themselves. It is as Paul tells the Roman Christians, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).

3)         This is the point of the Epistle lesson appointed for this Festival. Paul tells the Galatians, “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:23-26). The Law was never meant to justify sinners and make men righteous. The Law as given as a prison to confine all men in their sins, that is, to show all men their sins and their sinfulness until the gospel was revealed. The Lord never intended the Law to be the way that sinners gained God’s favor. Quite the opposite. The Law was to be a tutor, not as we think of tutors today, but tutors according to ancient Roman custom. A master would place his son under the care of a tutor, who was usually a trustworthy slave in the household. The tutor’s only job was to train the child in morals and right actions. This also meant that is was the tutor’s responsibility to restrain the child from doing wicked things by any means necessary. So it is for the Law. God places the Law over all mankind as a tutor to restrain man’s inherent wickedness with the threat of wrath and punishment. The Law tutors sinners in what is good and right, though it gives them no power to do what is good and right, because fulfilling the Law’s requirements can only be done when they are done from the heart. So that Law is the tutor of mankind, to restrain our wickedness and show us what is God’s will.

4)         In the ancient Roman way of doing things, the child was only to be under the tutor’s care for a period of time while the son grew into maturity. The tutor was only a restraint. The tutor did not teach the Son anything else. So it is with the Law, Paul says. It was our tutor, restraining our sins and showing us our sins, but only until Christ was revealed as the fulfillment and end of the Law. “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.” When Christ comes onto the scene, beginning with His circumcision, fulfilling the Law on our behalf, the faith is being revealed. For faith in Christ justifies sinners and frees them from the demands of the Law and its threats of wrath and punishment for failing to do the Law from the heart. “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor,” Paul writes. Faith in Christ’s merits and atoning death is what justifies. The merit of Christ that we look to in faith is His life lived perfectly and righteousness. Faith grasps Christ’s merit as our own and says, “Though Christ did all that, He did it for me, so that all His righteousness and goodness is mine.” Faith looks to the cross, the innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Christ, and grasps that suffering and death and says, “All that is done for me, to atone for my sins so that they are no more.” This faith justifies us before God and makes us into Sons of God as Paul proclaims: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

5)         When Christ came, He revealed the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of faith, so that for all who believe in Christ, the Law has no power over their conscience. The Christian begins to fulfill the Law in this life, though that doing of the Law is incomplete. Faith transforms the heart and makes it new so that the Christian spontaneously begins to do good works of love for neighbor, even as faith makes the heart love God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength. But this does not mean that we are entirely free from the Law in this life because we still live in the sinful flesh. The Law still makes is demands upon our flesh. The Law still shows us our sins when we look into the spotless mirror of the Ten Commandments, for there we see how we still fail to love our neighbor as ourselves and how we fail to love God above all things perfectly in this life. As long as we live in the flesh, the Law will daily shows our sins of thought, word, and deed against God and neighbor. Even though we, according to conscience, are free from the Law, the Law still rules over our flesh as a tutor, restraining our sinful actions and condemning us for our sins. According to our flesh we see that we are still “kept under guard by the law.” The Law still threatens us with punishment when we sin. The Law still accuses us and condemns us because of our sins. The Law still humbles us and leads us to acknowledge our sins. When this happens to us and we experience this in our hearts, we feel the time of the Law.  

6)         But what Paul says to the Galatians about the Law applies to us in this way also: that when we feel our sins and the threat and punishment of the Law, it is simply doing its job to bring us to Christ. “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us Christ, that we might be justified by faith. The Law still does its work in our hearts and minds, but that work always should lead us to Christ, not to despair of our sins and not towards feelings of self-righteousness against the Law. When our sins accuse us and Law presses down heavy on our hearts, it is pointing us to the Faith revealed: the gospel that in Christ, all the Law’s demands have been fulfilled so that we free of them and that our sins of all who believe are forgiven. Luther wrote that when we find ourselves in that time of the Law, crushed by the weight of our guilt, we are look to Christ and experience the time of grace, and that these two times happen in constant alternation. We daily feel the pangs of the Law and its threats for our sins, so we ought to daily train ourselves so that when we experience the Law’s threats, we know to turn to Christ and the gospel of the righteousness of faith, that our hearts may be comforted by His fulfilling of the Law in our place, and so that our consciences might be consoled by the forgiveness of our sins.

7)         All this makes the circumcision of Jesus on the eighth day a great comfort to Christians. Christ willingly goes under the knife, and thus under the entire Law, to fulfill every drop of the Law. He does this so that by faith He might be the end of the Law for you in your conscience. When the Law accuses you of your sins, it is doing so to drive you to Christ, the One who fulfilled the entire Law for you. When the time of the Law weighs heavy upon your soul, call to mind the time of grace, the Gospel. Remember that the Law was not given to justify you from your sins, but to show your sins and point you to Christ, so that by faith in Him you receive the forgiveness of those sins and experience the end of the Law’s accusations and threats. By faith you are no longer under the tutor, but under Christ, and therefore you are children of the heavenly Father, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” And if Sons, then heirs of all the heavenly blessings Christ your brother earned for you, beginning with His work on the eight day. Amen

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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