Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sermon on Luke 2:21, New Year's Day

In the name of Jesus, Amen. Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text is Luke 2:21, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise Him, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived.”

A blessed New Year to you all! Even if you didn’t stay up for the countdown to midnight last night, you probably all remember the New Year’s Eve parties from years past—staying up late with friends and family to watch the countdown till the New Year began. When I was growing up our relatives the Lights would come over for New Year’s Eve, and we’d all watch the big ball in New York City on TV, and count down the seconds in eager expectation for the ball to drop. There’s always a certain joy and festivity that surrounds the long-expected beginning of a new year—a time to start afresh, to wipe the slate clean from the past year’s mistakes and begin again.

This New Year's Day we remember another great countdown—the beginning of a New Year of a different sort. It began with a countdown, and was filled with great expectations for a new beginning. That New Year was the Year of the Lord’s favor, which Jesus’ announced when He began His ministry in Nazareth (Lk. 4:19). This New Year of the Lord’s favor was not a literal 365-day year, but was the new era of God’s mercy unveiled in the life of His Son Jesus Christ. But unlike our New Year’s celebrations, no one knew when the countdown to the New Year of the Lord’s favor was to begin. God’s people had waited many long years in expectation…but soon, unbeknown to all but a chosen few, the countdown began. And Jesus’ circumcision was another tick on that clock as the time of fulfillment edged nearer, and the New Year of the Lord’s favor would begin. Each prophecy and law fulfilled was another tick on that clock: John the Baptist’s birth; the virgin Mary giving birth to a Son; eight days later that Son being circumcised—and named Jesus, which means “He will save His people from their sins.” It was now eight days closer to New Year’s. But even though there would be no celebration here on earth, except for the angel choir in the shepherd’s field, all of heaven was gathered round the Christ child to watch the countdown to the New Year of the Lord’s favor, as they watched the long-expected Jesus come to earth. Time was ticking and the excitement in heaven was building in a slow crescendo till the great fulfillment of all God’s promises would come to pass!

So what was so significant about this eighth day of the young Jesus’ life? And why did this matter in the greater scheme of God’s unfolding plan of salvation? Well the eighth day was the day every Israelite boy was to be circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, and to be named. Turning back the clock a few thousands of years earlier, God made a solemn covenant with Abraham. He promised that Abraham would have a son of his own, and that his offspring would become countless like the stars, and that they would live in the land of Israel. And God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his seed. Because Abraham had faith in this promise of God, God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, and gave Abraham a sign to mark this covenant God had made. The sign of this covenant was circumcision. This circumcision in the flesh was a mark of God’s covenant, and for any male to remain uncircumcised in the Old Testament, would be a sign of rebellion against God’s covenant. Luther noted that this covenant of circumcision made it known that it was from this circumcised nation that the Savior would be born, and not from the uncircumcised Gentiles.

And who was the “seed of Abraham” through whom all nations would be blessed? It was none other than this child Jesus Christ, who was now passively keeping the covenant of circumcision as His parents took Him to be circumcised this eighth day. The life and death and life of this child Jesus was going to be a blessing to all nations. And now the time was arriving for promises to become reality. The angel that had announced Jesus’ conception to Mary had also given Him this name “Jesus” which means “He will save His people from their sins.” To fulfill the meaning of His name though, Jesus would have to perfectly keep the Law in our place, to fulfill it on our behalf—and then suffer and die for our sins on the cross. So here at Jesus’ circumcision was His first fulfillment of the Law, by keeping the Law of Moses and the covenant to Abraham that every male child of eight days was to be circumcised.

So what was so significant about this was that Jesus’ life of perfect obedience to God’s Law was set in motion, as He who was born under the Law began to redeem those under the Law (Gal. 4:4). Here at Jesus’ circumcision, Christ shed His first precious drops of divine blood, the blood that was the price of our redemption. It was Jesus’ first suffering for our sin, as He took on the obedience of the Law for our sake, passively keeping the Law by His parent’s obedience. For He was the one to bring about the Year of the Lord’s favor, and this would not be accomplished quickly or painlessly. It was our sin, and the sin of Abraham and all humanity before and after him that brought this necessity upon Jesus. For the New Year of the Lord’s favor to begin, the guilt of all the world’s sin had to be taken away, so we could begin the New Year afresh. Those first drops of blood Jesus’ shed on the eighth day were a foreshadowing of the blood He would have to shed on the cross for our sins, as drop by drop the full price of the world’s sin was drained from His bruised, dying, and then dead body.

As we begin this New Year of 2006, let us think back upon the sins of the past year, and all the wrongs that we have done, which were laid upon His cross. Remember our unfaithfulness, our using God’s name in vain, our neglect of worship, our disobedience to parents or others in authority, our selfishness toward neighbors. Let us examine our lives according to all of the 10 Commandments and see where we have fallen. And see what good we have not done. For here in our failure to do the good things commanded by the Law, and by our breaking of the commandments, we see the guilt for which Christ suffered. A suffering that was to be ours. Our punishment, our blood shed, our eternal damnation. Here we see what Christ did for us. But do not despair…repent! For Jesus brings in the New Year of the Lord’s favor.

In keeping the law perfectly on our behalf, Jesus fulfills the meaning of His name, given on this day of the Circumcision of our Lord. He fulfills the meaning of His name by saving us all from our sins. He has brought in the New Year of the Lord’s favor, begun in His fulfillment of the Law in those first drops of blood shed in His circumcision, and completed in His death for our sake. By His blood shed on the cross, He inaugurated a New Year, fresh and clean, new starts, new beginnings. By washing away the sin of many years past and many years yet to come, Jesus unveiled a new era of God’s mercy, shown in His own death and resurrection. Done so that we could perpetually live in the New Year of the Lord’s favor, with a fresh start, clean from our former sins.

And this New Year has been brought to us in our baptism. How so? Hear the Apostle Paul: “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12). In our baptism, we were passively brought into a new covenant. The old covenant of circumcision in the flesh was obsolete, as Christ had fulfilled all things. But now a new circumcision made without hands has been given, and this circumcision is the circumcision Christ gives to us in our baptism. In our baptism, we are spiritually circumcised as the old sinful flesh is cut off from us, and we are raised with Christ through faith in God who raised Him from the dead. Here in baptism we have become passive recipients of the new covenant, as Jesus has fulfilled the Law in our stead to save us from our sins.

We have received all grace and forgiveness from Him, so that as we begin this New Year of 2006, we begin it in the New Year of the Lord’s favor—baptized into His blessing, the blessing promised to Abraham, a blessing for all nations. Living in this New Year of the Lord’s favor, we continually put behind us that old sinful flesh as we daily repent of our sins, and strive to live in all righteousness and purity forever. Living a life that delights to walk in the commandments of the Lord, joyfully worshipping our God and Savior and mercifully serving our neighbors in love. Each new day is a fresh start as we are washed clean in our baptism and live anew in the New Year of the Lord’s favor. And we can celebrate this New Year with an exuberance and joy unlike any joy this world knows, because we know the redemption that has been given and the favor that has been shown to us in Christ Jesus. And we know that this New Year’s celebration is just a tiny picture of the heavenly celebration that knows no days or years, but continues in peace forever!
The peace of God that passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds this blessed New Year. Amen.

1 comment:

monergon said...

Wow! Now that's great law/gospel preaching!!!