Historic Lectionary – Luke 2:21 – January 1, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
New Year’s Resolutions and the Covenant of Circumcision have at the very least one thing in common.
And that is, that either immediately, or at the end of this month, or even the end of this week,
They both reveal that we are indeed, as we confess, “Poor, miserable, sinners”
When it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, you and I can’t even keep our own promises, at least not perfectly, even the ones that we dream up ourselves and set the rules for.
We may have all the optimism in the world on the night of New Years Eve, or even for the entire month of January, but most of us have come to know through experience, year in and year out, that our human willpower has very distinct limits.
And that’s concerning our resolutions, those promises that we make to ourselves.
How much more do we forget and plug our ears to the Word of God.
Indeed we are by nature a forgetful people.
If there is one thing that describes the constant tension in all of our relationships, whether with family, friends or anyone else, it is our constant forgetfulness.
We may very well want to do better, to be a more devoted spouse, a wiser parent, a more responsible child, a more faithful worker…it’s just that we always forget.
And in this way, the people of Israel were no different than you and I.
They quickly and repeatedly forgot the Lord’s Word and Promises.
In fact, much of the Old Testament is simply a history of their constant forgetfulness.
Although the Lord had brought them out of the land of Egypt, although He had saved and delivered them from death and slavery.
They nonetheless proved to be more than capable of plugging their ears to His Word, of forgetting His Law, of silencing and killing His prophets and instead seeking always to become gods themselves.
The Lord’s People, the Nation of Israel, they were quick to forget Him.
And so the Lord gave them a sign.
He gave them a promise and a name. An identity as His own people and a constant reminder of His own work.
He gave them circumcision.
Where the people of Israel could simply plug their ears to the Law of Moses, or skip out on the assembly of worship, or murder the prophets who brought them the word.
They could not escape the sign of circumcision.
It was permanent, lasting, and carved into the flesh of the sons of Israel.
No matter how forgetful humanity could be, the sons of Israel bore the daily and eternal reminder of life and death with God.
For circumcision places one under the entire Law, binding him to keep or die.
Perhaps, like the experience of our New Year’s Resolutions, there might have been a few sons of Israel who began their study of the Law with great hopefulness and optimism, confident that they could bear such a burden, given enough time, enough focus, and enough faith.
But time spent hearing the Word and struggling in this flesh is always what shows us true holiness, not simply the desire or the hope for true holiness.
Time in the Word and in the flesh reveals the true point of circumcision.
That we do not and cannot save ourselves.
For if I cannot even keep those promises, those resolutions, that serve and benefit myself alone, how could I possibly keep the Law of Righteousness that serves God and neighbor? The one that requires sacrifice and selflessness, mercy and compassion, longsuffering and even death.
No one can do this.
And under circumcision that was always the point.
For in that truth, the sons of Israel were to look forward to the only salvation that was left.
Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ, on the 8th day of his birth, entered into the full weight of the Law for us and was circumcised.
Here his blood was shed, that ours would be spared.
He had no need of it, His flesh was already perfect, His obedience to the Law blameless, for indeed, He was the Law itself.
But we had need it.
It was necessary for us.
For as Christ is the Head of the Body, so what is true of the Head is true of the Body.
As a child is born, so the doctors and nurses breathe a sigh of relief when the baby’s head is delivered, for in this, the guarantee is that whole body will soon follow.
As Christ is circumcised, so He is bound to the Law, but unlike every other son of Israel, this the true Son actually fulfills the Law, He is able to bear it, to fill it up and finish it.
And yet for us, despite His own perfect righteousness, He will suffer now as one who had broken the Law, He will suffer as we do and were meant to suffer.
He will be cut from the His people, forsaken and pierced and sentenced to death.
All so that you might grafted in, so that you might no longer be forsaken, full of despair and shame.
But instead, that you would receive now the marks of His righteousness, no longer the circumcision made with hands, but the marks of the Christ crucified and given up for you.
This is the promise of Baptism.
Here in the waters of rebirth and resurrection, your sin has not simply been cut away, but completely drowned in the death of Christ.
Here in the flood that marks you as God’s own child, you have received not a carving by knives into the flesh, but the promise that has been washed over you, marked into your ears, upon your forehead and upon your heart.
The Christian no longer bears the marks of circumcision, for that has already been fulfilled now and forever in Christ.
Instead, he bears the mark of baptism, indeed the sign of the cross.
It is not carved into his body, but rather traced upon his head, heart and chest.
It is not etched into his flesh, but rather heard in his ears and believed.
For indeed, Christ is the Head of the Body, and you are the Body of Christ.
Though you do not see it, indeed you hear it, you have been crucified with him, you bear the marks of his body, and above all things, you bear the mark of His Name.
The Name of Jesus, the point of Baptism, the promise above all promises, the comfort and knowledge of who God is for you.
It is not circumcision, it is not the threat of death by the Law.
It is Jesus, the Lord who Himself saves His people from their sins.
The sign of the cross is nothing more and nothing less than a gift given to the Christian. It is not something he is bound to, but something he has the joy to receive.
The sign of the cross reminds the Baptized who they are and whose they are. It reminds them with their hands forehead, heart, chest and mind that they have the name of Jesus, that the Lord himself saves and that they do not, that the Lord himself has taken the full weight of the Law upon Him, that the Lord himself has declared them holy and righteous for His sake.
The sign of the cross is many things, and yet it is one thing, it is mark of the name of Jesus.
The Lord who saves, the peace that is given to you on this New Year, peace that despite your forgetfulness and despite your failed resolutions, the Lord has done it, He has finished it.
In this, the peace of God is yours, not to grow cynical over the Law that is never done, or the human will which is weak and flawed, but the peace to actually be free, free of the law, free of death, free from shame and sin.
For the Lord has done it, there is nothing left to do, in that peace you and I joyfully are filled with His love and so are free to love God and love neighbor, in peace, not to prove a resolution to ourselves, but to live in the peace of the name of Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.