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Sermon for The Circumcision and Name of Jesus

Augustana, 2012

Click the link for mp3 audio 09 Sermon for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.mp3

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

Happy New Year.  Out with the old and in with the new.  I saw recently that the most popular New Year’s resolution this year was save money.  I doubt many people will dispute this in today’s uncertain economy.  Of course every year the gyms are busiest in January too as many people decide to add lose weight to their list of resolutions.  Many Christians too, jump on the band wagon and add particularly religious resolutions to the list.  Pray more.  Read the whole Bible this year.  Maybe you even recently got one of those One Year Bibles or dusted off your copy.  If you’re in this camp of spiritual self-improvers, today’s readings must leave you feeling somewhat unfulfilled.  They’re not longer than normal; they’re much shorter and they speak to nothing of your attempts to take care of number 5 on the average American’s list, “Be more spiritual.”  The message of the Scriptures is not good advice, it is truly Good News.

There are, I guess, at least two major types of Christians: those who look to the Bible as instructions for better living both before God and with their fellow man and those who listen to Bible to hear the Gospel, the truly Good News that God sent His Son to make the world right with Him again.  To the first kind of Christian, those who look at our religion as a self-improvement project, today’s readings are a great disappointment.  They’re too short.  They’re not either from Genesis or Matthew, so nothing has begun that we can easily check off our list and they speak very little of the things we can do to be more spiritual.  They’re not a list of proverbs or instructions in sanctification from the end of one of Paul’s letters.  They don’t even capitalize on the day’s theme of out with old and in with the new.  In fact, they’re on an entirely different theme altogether, the circumcision and naming of Jesus.  When the readings for the Church are at such odds with the prevailing thoughts of the day, we might be best off noting the direction the readings would take us rather than the direction of our perverted religiousity would take us.
The reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians gets us started in the right direction this morning.  “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”  It is amazing to me the number of Christians who still live as though they are held captive under the Law.  Like the Jews of old, they are not content with God’s Law revealed in the Scriptures, they make up more laws to hedge otherwise ne’er-do-well would be Christians from doing things that might break the commandments.  So, don’t drink because that might lead to something else.  Don’t play cards because that might lead to stealing.  Don’t dance because that might lead to something else.  You know these folks, they’re out there.  Their ideas might even be in here.  But this is not the message of the Scriptures.  Paul tells us plainly that the Law was given as a guardian, as a kind of really strict coach so that we might understand how complete the Law is.

But Paul continues, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  This is the essence of the Good News of the Gospel.  You have inherited what your Father gives you.  You are sons.  Just a word here on the translation.  I’m glad our translation left “sons” alone here because this is important.   This is about inheritance and in the ancient world “children” don’t inherit, sons do.  Ladies, for legal purposes here, you’re sons so that you can inherit.  Ladies, Saint Paul knows you’re not male, that’s why he follows this up with what he does.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”  You are, all of you, legally sons, inheritors, heirs, whether you are male or female.  So by the way, those who use this passage to support the ordination of women do so at great injustice to the text itself and the immediate and great context surrounding it.  It’s not about ordination, it’s about inheriting the promise God made to Abraham and that’s Jesus.

And the long promised offspring of Abraham was taken to the temple on the eight day and circumcised according to the Law of Moses and was named Jesus.  It’s interesting that we have a reading form Galatians this morning because it was circumcision that divided the church in Galatia.  There were those self-improvement types in Galatia who said that Christians must submit to circumcision and there were others who said circumcision was no longer necessary.  Paul weighed in but he did so in a way that helps us to understand Jesus’ circumcision in a much more profound way.  Further on from our reading this morning, Paul writes in chapter 5, “ I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. (Gal 5:3)  What does this mean but that in submitting himself to circumcision Jesus obligates himself to keep the whole Law.  “Well,” you might wonder, “He’s just a baby, how does he do that?”  Jesus is no ordinary baby.  He is the eternal Word of the Father, begotten not made.  In allowing himself to become flesh of the womb of Mary, He allowed himself to be put under the Law of Moses.  I know I have spoken before of the Scriptures as a rich tapestry that coheres into one beautiful portrait of the love of God.  Here is an example of just such a finely woven thread.  Jesus birth is not just some Christianization of a pagan myth of God being born in flesh.  Jesus must be born in the flesh so that He might be circumcised and be obligated under the Law of Moses.  The scale of the unfolding of the Good News of Jesus Christ is truly of epic proportions taking centuries to come to pass.

Surely, the picture has now come into sharper focus for you.  God gave the Law to show us where we fall far short of His plan for us.  But our religion is not a self-improvement project.  The Gospel is not good advice.  God sent His Son to be born in human flesh, under the Law, to bear every unbearable burden of the Law, and to fulfill the Law perfectly even as an eight day old infant.  How weak and insufficient we are that an eight day old Jesus fulfills the Law perfectly where we fall so far short but this is truly Good News.  At eight days old, Jesus took upon his shoulders and began to bear in His newborn flesh the pain and curse and burden of the Law.  Already He bore in His body the wounds that the Law would give Him.  The blood shed at eight days old a foreshadowing of the requirements for sin offering under the Law, the sin offering that He would become.  The few drops of blood shed now in the temple a deposit on what He would bear in His body on the cross for you, full weight and punishment of the Law that all the demands God’s Law might be satisfied and fulfilled.  His is why Mary and Joseph are instructed to call Him Jesus.  It is because He will save His people from their sins.  He has done it.  Behold your Jesus, the one who saves you from your sins.  You have peace with God.  And look there, God has already completed one of your resolutions for you.  This is truly Good News.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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