Luke 2:21

The Circumcision and Name of Jesus – 1/1/2023

Today, we once again enter uncharted territory. We have never been here before—that is, in 2023. What will the new year hold for us? One thing is for certain: as with every new year we have seen come and go, much will remain familiar and the same. If we didn't have to turn the page on the calendar or there wasn't all this New Year's revelry, we'd think it was 2022! Then again, experience also tells us that some things will be different or change in this new year. New births, deaths, or even jobs will change our family situation. No doubt, new tragedies, disasters, or illnesses will invade our lives.

Amidst all the uncertainty, there stands an eternal constant that both redeems all our time and saves you and me from all things. That thing is the blood of Jesus.

The shedding of the blood of Jesus had its beginning when the Babe of Bethlehem was only 8 days old. The Holy Gospel reading assigned for New Year's Day is Luke's account of the circumcision of the infant Jesus. It's so brief that it only encompasses one verse in our English Bibles. And interestingly enough, Luke alone records it for us. It reads: "And 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."

Why should this text be set aside for New Year's Day? Circumcisions were to be done on the eighth day after birth. If we count off eight days from the date observed as Jesus' birth, December 25, we arrive at January 1. As one Lutheran theologian has written, "So it is that while the kingdom of this world observes the beginning of a new solar year in time, we Christians celebrate the circumcision of Jesus." Thus the first of January become for us not just another notch in time but a genuine link with eternity through the flesh of God's own Son (Senkbeil, CPR, Vol. 11, Part 1, p. 58).

Jesus' circumcision is indeed a first: a first for God and a first for us. It is the first blood shed by the Son of God. It is this first blood that seals the destiny of this Child of Mary, as well as the destiny of all those who believe in Him. But Jesus' circumcision is also an "end." It ends up fulfilling the Old Covenant with its seal, circumcision. No more ceremonial circumcisions for the people of God will be necessary.

But, I suppose, what better time to end 2022 and begin 2023 for a Christian? After all, our very identity, hope, and even eternal life begin and end in the blood of Jesus.

By having Jesus circumcised, Mary and Joseph were simply fulfilling their parental obligation as God's covenant people. It was the command of the Lord through Abraham. God had instituted circumcision as a sign, or mark, of His covenant with His people. "That circumcision marked the beginning of a new life in the Kingdom of God—the Kingdom that lasts forever" (Senkbeil, p. 58). The act of circumcision itself, the cutting away of the foreskin, symbolized the removing away of all that offends before God, that is, all sin and every evil (Col. 2:13) that is inherent in human flesh. Circumcision sets the circumcised person apart from God and away from sin, evil, and the world. In other words, it sanctified the circumcised and made them holy.

But why was it necessary for this child of Mary to be circumcised? After all, as the angel Gabriel had announced to Mary before the Child was conceived, the Child would be supernaturally conceived in her by the Holy Spirit, and He would, therefore, be a holy offspringthe very Son of God Himself (Luke 1:35). As such, this child would have no sin. He would need no forgiveness. He did not need to be brought personally under God's covenant, for the Kingdom of God resided in him!

But this drawing of first blood, like Jesus' baptism later, was required if this child of Mary was to be the substitute for all humanity. By being circumcised, this child, even at 8 days old, was actively obeying the Law of God in the stead and place of the rest of us fallen humans.

Similarly, this child was passively obeying God's justice, which states that the sinner must pay in flesh for the sins committed in flesh. As Scripture clearly states, there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.

Here, then, at His circumcision, the first blood of the First Born of all Creation, the Second Adam, the Divinely Appointed Substitute for us all, was being spilled under the judgment of God in the place of you and me!

We could say that with Jesus' circumcision, the die was cast. In industry, a "die" is any tool or apparatus that is specifically made to cut or shape other materials in a certain way. The way the die is cast or made will determine how the final product turns out. With the first drops of blood shed at His circumcision, the die was cast for the whole life, ministry, and death of the Son of Mary. His destiny was set in motion. There was no turning back after his circumcision. The course of his life was set.

The bloodshed on the 8th day of His earthly life foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice He would later render as a 33-year-old on the cross outside Jerusalem. Unlike every other child that comes into this world to live, this Child of Mary and Son of God came into our world to die—to give His life as a ransom for all sinners.

Then, too, it was also customary to name the child at his circumcision. The naming of Mary and Joseph's child confirmed his destiny. For the 7 days following his birth, this child, of whom the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest," and the shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem to see, was known only as the Child of Mary—a child born to a lowly virgin in a cattle stall. This child was formally and officially named "Jesus" on the eighth day with the shedding of His first blood.

This Old Covenant tradition of naming the newborn at circumcision is somewhat preserved in the liturgy of our New Covenant counterpart to circumcision, Holy Baptism, which also takes away sin and incorporates the baptized into the Kingdom of God. The Lutheran Agenda still requires the pastor administering Baptism to ask, "How is this child to be named?" following ancient orders of Baptism. This practice no doubt influenced some Christian groups to refer to baptism as a christening.

But the naming of this holy child as Jesus was not simply a whim of Mary and Joseph. They did not find the name Jesus after pouring through books of children's names that they had checked out of the public library, nor by Googling a name search. Giving him the name Jesus was not even their choice. The name Jesus was God-ordained.

This child required a special name because he was the subject of centuries of prophecy that God would send a Savior. Isaiah, for example, proclaimed, "For a child will be born to us; a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary before the child was conceived and later to Joseph before the child was born to tell them to name the child Jesus.

There is no more appropriate name for the Child of Mary than Jesus. "Jesus" is Greek for the Hebrew name Yeshua (Joshua), which translates as "The LORD saves." This child is the Lord God in the form of a human being, sent to save His people from their sins. The naming of the Holy Child Jesus sealed and announced both the Child's identity and destiny. Everything about him was defined by his name: his person, his life, his work, his death, and his glory.

How sad that we often use the name Jesus so casually, if not profanely? As the apostle Paul proclaims in his letter to the Philippians, this name "is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

The apostle Peter concurs with the majesty of this name, "Jesus." He proclaimed, "There is no other name given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). To pronounce or speak the name of Jesus is to proclaim salvation for sinners. To sing the name of Jesus is to praise God for our salvation. To trust in the name of Jesus is to live in the hope of eternal salvation.

You can already see, then, can't you, that with the circumcision of Jesus, not only was the die cast for the destiny of the Child Jesus, but the die was likewise cast for our destiny and that of every other believer in Jesus?

All this is prophetically shown to us in the prescribed timing for circumcisions, that is, on the eighth day. For God's people, the concept of the eighth day has always been freighted with rich imagery of eternal hope. God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days and designated the 7th day as a "Sabbath," which is a "Day of Rest." However, the day after the Sabbath, the 8th day, became the day of the Great Feasts to the Lord, a day of sacred assembly (Neh. 8:18). Under the Old Covenant, circumcision on the 8th day suggested not only incorporation into God's people, Israel, but also included in all the end-time hopes of life in the age to come.

This concept of victory and eternal life associated with the eighth day found its way into the New Testament church as well. Jesus' resurrection, sealing His victory over sin and death, occurred on the 8th day, which we now call Sunday. Early Christians quickly adopted this eighth day as the day for their sacred assembly to celebrate the victory Christ had given them.

Martin Luther wrote convincingly about how all of this affects you and me. He stated, "In an allegorical sense, the eighth day signifies the future life; for Christ rested in the sepulcher on the Sabbath, that is, during the entire seventh day, but rose again on the day which follows the Sabbath, which is the eighth day and the beginning of a new week, and after it, no day is counted." For Christ's death ended the weeks, and on the eighth day, he entered into a different kind of life, in which days are no longer counted, but there is one eternal day without the alternations of the night...Christ is a new and eternal life. In that life, true circumcision will be carried out. At that time, not only the foreskin of the heart will be circumcised—which happens in this life through faith—but the entire flesh and all its essence will be cleansed from all depravity, ignorance, lust, sin, and filth. Consequently, the flesh is then immortal (Concordia Commentary, CPH, p. 90).

All those Eighth-Day blessings and hopes brought to the fore in Jesus' circumcision have been brought to each of us in Holy Baptism. In Colossians, we read: "And in Him (Christ), you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ Jesus, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Col. 2:11).

The people of the world might not be impressed with the circumcision of Jesus, nor should we expect them to be. After all, they are too preoccupied with marking the passage of time to recognize the beginning of the Eternal Day in His circumcision. On the other hand, as baptized children of God who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, you are Eighth Day People. The circumcised and crucified Child of Mary, your Savior Jesus, has made everything new for you. The destiny cast for him at his circumcision has become your destiny through your baptism. You are already, by His grace and through the forgiveness of your sins, living the eternal life He has given you.

Accordingly, no matter how poorly your 2022 went... No matter how much guilt you managed to end the year with... and no matter how much you failed to keep God's law, your year ended in the blood of the Child of Mary, the Son of God. His blood cleanses you from all sin and fills in all that you lack.

Likewise, whether your circumstances in life change for the better or the worse in this new year 2023, and no matter how much you will once again falter, transgress, and fail to follow God's will, the blood of Jesus goes before you and is upon you, sanctifying you for the Eternal Day where there will be no more sorrow, no more sin, and no more pain. 

A blessed new year in the blood of Christ!

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