O Blessed Day

Text: Luke 2:21

Date: Circumcision and Name of Jesus + 1/1/07

      There are two reasons we gather this day. The second reason, that is to say, the reason of least importance, is that it is New Year’s Day. Happy New Year 2007! The primary reason, of greater importance, is that it is the eighth day of the celebration of Our Lord’s human birth, the day on which he came under the knife of God’s Law and already began to shed his infant blood in the Mosaic covenant of circumcision. For our Lord took on our human flesh from his mother Mary in order that he could take away our sin by his bloody sacrifice and restore us by giving us his holiness and righteousness and deathless, resurrection life. In other words, this feast changes everything.

      Even our marking of time and the changing of a digit on our calendars have any real meaning only insofar as it testifies to this Good News. The politically correct crowd of secular atheists trying to remove any references to God or religion in our society whether that be from our country’s pledge of allegiance, national holidays or even our money has even adopted the change in those two little letters on the calendar, “a.d.” The initials “a.d.” refer to the Latin phrase anno Domini or “year of the Lord.” But you will see the politically corrected initials “c.e.” here and there meaning, simply, the “common era.” Yet just the number 2007 itself marks time from the most significant birthday in the history of the world, that of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ or Messiah of God. Even if we would try to obliterate reference to Christ by adopting the Hebrew calendar, this year being 5767 “c.e.”, that number ostensibly refers to the creation of the world by the Creator of the world, to the Darwinian chagrin of secular scientists. Separated from God or ignoring God, the passing of time and even life itself becomes meaningless, pointless. The truth is, the calendar itself, and so New Year’s Day, is a testimony to the creative and saving acts of God.

      We heard the words of institution of the covenant of circumcision in our first reading today from Genesis 17. Much like rainbows that, although they happen naturally, were given the added significance by God as a sign of his promise never again to destroy all flesh by means of a flood (Genesis 9:8-17), so God chose circumcision, though already practiced by other peoples of the ancient world, to be a sign of his covenant or promise to Abraham of His grace that would culminate in The Descendant of Abraham, the Messiah and Savior of the world. Circumcision was a fleshly mark of God’s covenanted mercy. Failure to bear this sign signified refusal to accept the proffered grace of God. Of course, mere outward compliance with this law wasn’t enough in itself but required also a spiritual and mindful confirmation and commitment to the God of the covenant.

      Now, according to the Law of God, our short, one-verse Gospel reading for today says of the Holy Child of Mary, simply, that “at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” It was thus that the Savior began his active obedience under the Law of God in order to fulfill it perfectly and thus become the one-and-only perfect, spotless victim whose sacrifice alone could obliterate the wages of sin for the whole world. His active obedience began with the shedding of a few drops of his sacred blood in the sign of circumcision. His passive obedience ended with the spilling of his sacred blood on the cross. As the Book of Hebrews says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” [Hebrews 9:22 (ESV)]. And so the Church sings today,

      O blessed day when first was poured
            The blood of our redeeming Lord!
      O blessed day when Christ began
            His saving work for sinful man!
      While from his mother’s bosom fed,
            His precious blood He wills to shed;
      A foretaste of His death He feels,

            An earnest of His love reveals. [TLH 115:1-2]

      This same blood along with his body is not, however, to be merely a sign dried up on the ancient wood of his cross. Nor is it locked up in heaven after his resurrection and ascension as some falsely believe. But by the communication of attributes between his divine and human natures he gives his very body and blood to his followers sacramentally under the forms of bread and wine in the Holy Communion, as he commanded us, saying, “this is my body, this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me.” In this way, through his body and blood, he brings and distributes the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to the members of his body on earth to this day.

      On this day not only was his blood first poured, but also “he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” In the same way that God made the common rainbow and the practice of circumcision signs of His grace, so the otherwise common name Yeshua, Joshua, Jesus received its true significance only in this Holy Child come as the one-and-only Savior of the world. That he was given this name by God, even “before he was conceived in the womb” and communicated to Joseph and Mary by the agency of an angel, proclaims Him to be the Son of God the Father now in flesh appearing. This phrase, “Son of God,” would be, at once, the testimony of praise on the lips of believers and, at the same time, His condemnation spoken by the lips of those who delivered Him to death, “because he has made himself the Son of God” [John 19:7 (ESV)]. Yet, already in his death the centurion standing by would confess the truth, “Truly this was the Son of God!” [Matthew 27:54 (ESV)]. Now, “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” [1 John 4:15 (ESV)].

      On this New Year’s Day we testify how all time and all our times get their true significance only as they point to the mighty acts of God in His Son. This is the way of faith. On this, the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, we believe in the salvation He brought by the shedding of His blood in fulfillment of the scriptures, beginning now on the eighth day of His birth, and on His last day on the cross. We celebrate His victory, our victory over sin, death, devil and hell, as we receive His life-giving blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. On this day, and every day, we praise his name and reverently bow our heads whenever we say it, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” [Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV)].

            As in the words of the preparation of the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil, so we proclaim this day, “Christ Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever, the beginning and the ending, the Alpha and Omega. His are time and eternity; His are the glory and dominion, now and forever. By His wounds we have healing both now and forever.”