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“Shed for You”
Luke 2:21


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
The Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord—January 1, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The book of Hebrews says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”  That is the significance of the event we are commemorating today, the first shedding of our Lord Jesus Christ’s blood for your salvation.

Because today, January 1st, is not only the secular “holiday” of New Year’s Day.  Since the ancient rite of circumcision took place on the eighth day after birth, and January 1st happens to fall eight days after the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th, in addition to New Year’s Day each year on this date we also celebrate a “holy day” of the Christian Church Year, The Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord, as recorded in today’s Gospel Reading: “And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, his name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

In one of his sermons for this festival, Martin Luther begins, “This is a short Gospel lesson, and so we’ll make a short sermon out of it!”  But, as you read further into the sermon you understand he started out with that joke to make a point.  Most people think because The Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord is an obscure festival, and has the shortest of all Gospel Readings—just one verse—this event in our Lord’s life must not be very significant, and there really isn’t much to say about it.  But, at the end of what is actually a fairly long sermon, talking about all the different aspects of this festival and its deep meaning for us, Luther concludes, “So, you see the observance of Christ’s circumcision offers us a rich sermon; there’s enough here to talk about for several hours!”

“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”  That’s the first thing to understand about the event we are commemorating today.  It was the first shedding of our Lord Jesus Christ’s blood for your salvation.

The world right now is going through an international debt crisis.  It has been suggested that all the outstanding debt in the world should just be cancelled.  One economist has said that if the politicians really want to help us, all the government has to do is push a few buttons on its computers and the debt would all be gone.  Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  Wouldn’t that be fair—just to cancel everyone’s debts?  But, other economists have explained that one person’s debt is someone else’s investment or retirement fund, and wiping out all debt would also wipe out all savings and create economic catastrophe.  It may sound wonderful, but it really wouldn’t be fair to just cancel everyone’s debts.  Fairness, basic justice, requires that the debt must be paid.

Since the fall of humanity into sin the world has been going through a spiritual debt crisis, as Paul says in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We all owe God much more than we could ever possibly pay.  But, if God really loves us, why doesn’t he just push a few buttons on his heavenly computers and just cancel the spiritual debt of our sins? 

The Bible tells us that justice is part of God’s very nature, and Paul says in 2nd Timothy, “He cannot be false to himself.”  It would be against basic justice and God’s very nature to simply cancel the debt of our sin.  Justice requires that the debt must be paid.

On the other hand, another characteristic of God’s very nature is mercy.  As Paul also says in 2nd Timothy, “God our Savior wants all men to be saved.”  And Peter says, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish.”

So, because of the fall of humanity into sin, God had to find a way to reconcile his justice and his mercy.  “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”  God’s justice required that someone pay that ultimate price, the shedding of their blood and giving of their life, in order to pay off our spiritual debt and earn forgiveness for our sins.  God’s mercy found a way.  He provided a substitute to pay that ultimate price for us, a substitute to shed his blood and give his life in our place.  As Peter explains, “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that for Passover each year at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem over 250,000 lambs were sacrificed on one day, creating literally rivers of blood flowing away from the Temple.  All those sacrificial lambs and those rivers of blood did not actually earn forgiveness themselves.  They were prophetic, a reminder to the people of God’s promise that one day he would send the Messiah, who would be the ultimate, final sacrifice to cleanse them of their sins with his own blood.  That is what John the Baptist meant when he pointed to Jesus and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”  The Good News of the event in our Lord’s life that we are commemorating today is that already on the eighth day of his life, with his circumcision, he began for us his journey of painful suffering and shedding of his blood, a journey which would culminate some 33 years later with his death upon the cross and his precious blood poured out upon Calvary.  The Apostle John says, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from every sin.”  The debt of your sin wasn’t just arbitrarily cancelled.  By the shedding of his blood your debt was paid, in full.  Your sins are all forgiven, because by his blood you are cleansed from every sin.  That’s the first thing to understand about the event we are commemorating today.  It was the first shedding of our Lord Jesus Christ’s blood for your salvation.

Paul says in Galatians, “Every man who lets himself be circumcised . . . is obligated to obey the whole law.”  That’s the second thing to understand about the event we are commemorating today.  Technically, the Queen of England is exempt from the laws of England.  They call this the “royal prerogative.”  We have the same thing, because our Congress often passes laws from which they are exempt. As the Son of God, the Babe of Bethlehem was by right exempt from the Law of God, including the Old Testament ceremonial law requiring circumcision.  So, why was he circumcised?  Because, part of earning salvation for us was for him to perfectly fulfill all the Law of God in our place.   By being circumcised he put himself under the Law for us and obligated himself to fulfill the Law on our behalf.  His circumcision was the beginning of his perfect fulfillment of God’s Law in your place.  Paul says in Romans, “Through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”  Christ’s perfect obedience of God’s Law is credited to you.  As Paul says in Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.”

In today’s Epistle Reading, Peter says, “In Christ you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism.”  That’s the third thing to understand about the event we are commemorating today.  The ancient rite of circumcision was a reminder to the Hebrews of God’s promise to Abraham, “Through your Descendant all peoples on earth will be blessed,” a reminder that one of their descendants would be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.  Now that he has come, this ancient rite by which the children of Israel were incorporated into God’s chosen people has been supplanted by the Christian Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Now through Baptism you have been incorporated into God’s chosen people.  Just as circumcision was a mark on the body identifying the ancient Hebrews as one of God’s chosen people, Baptism is now a mark, not on your body, but on your soul, identifying you as one of God’s chosen people.

“And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, his name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”  Along with being circumcised the boy would also be named.  The angel had told Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  The name Jesus means, “The Lord Saves.”  His very name beautifully says who he is, and what he does.  He is the Lord, who saves you from your sins.  He saved you from your sins by the shedding of his blood, and his perfect fulfillment of the Law in your place, which began already on the eighth day of his life, with The Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord.

Amen.

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