Circumcision and naming of Jesus Sunday
Text: Luke 2:21
Title: The Day God Returned To The Temple
When I was putting the final touches on my sermon a hymn number 370 in our hymn book came to mind that starts off asking the question, "What Child is this who, laid to rest On Mary's lap is sleeping? Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?" The rest of the hymn then proceeds to answer those questions, as it tells who Jesus is and his purpose for being born.
I would imagine that hymn was based on Saint Luke's Gospel, for, in Luke's Gospel, we find the answer as to who Jesus is and his purpose in being born. In the first chapter of Luke, starting at verse 30, we read, "And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God."
God overshadowed Mary. And in doing so, God had entered her womb in some mysterious way that we can't understand, just as God overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant when it was placed in the Holy of Holies of the temple.
There is a lot of other good stuff going on in those verses, but because we don't have much time this morning, I want to get started on our Gospel reading. "And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name the angel gave before he was conceived in the womb."
I chose to take a closer look at this verse today because today is the feast day of the "Circumcision and naming of Jesus." This feast day which is always on January 1 has been celebrated by the Christian Church since 567 AD. The circumcision part of the feast has fallen out of favor for some time, for circumcision is something not talked about. It is bloody and not a very nice thing to talk about on Sunday morning, so it generally gets overlooked.
The problem with not studying this verse to learn why Saint Luke wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is to miss out on what God wants us to know about the circumcision and naming of Jesus, which by the way, means "Yahweh saves," or, if you want to really get to the root of the Jesus' name it is "I Am that I Am saves."
When Jesus was circumcised, it was not a private event as it is now. It was done publically, at the synagogue, for the circumcision of a male marked the boy as an Israelite, a people set apart, by God, from the other nations that did not circumcise their boys. It was a big event, but in Jesus case it was an even bigger event, for in the shedding of his blood, Jesus, God Incarnate, the "Great I Am that saves," as a living breathing first born son of Israel was obeying the law of God, so that we who are under the law could be redeemed from the curse of the law.
Thirty-two days later, that is forty days after his birth, Jesus arrives at the temple with Mary and Joseph. They were there because God's law given to the Israelites said that every firstborn male child was to be set apart to the Lord. Mary, before she could enter the temple, made her sacrifice of two turtle doves or two pigeons, we don't know which, for her purification after giving birth.
This is why Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were there that day. It was just a normal thing to do when the first Son was born to an Israelite family. There were probably lots of families doing the same thing that day. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were just one family of many.
As they entered the temple area after Mary's purification and Jesus' dedication to the Lord, something unusual happened; something really big. Simeon, who we are told is a righteous old man who had been told that he would not see death until he saw the Lord's Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, picks Jesus out of all those baby boys there that day and exclaims, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."
Those beautiful words of Simeon, which we sing on most Communion Sundays after God has entered us through the bread and wine of his Supper that we eat and drink, announce to all people throughout all time that God had arrived at the temple. Salvation for all has arrived, as God had promised after Adam and Eve sinned.
Let's take a moment and step back some 600 years earlier, before Jesus was born so that we can get a better understanding of the significance of Jesus' circumcision, his naming, and Simeon's prayer of thanksgiving. Six hundred years earlier, when Babylonia defeated Israel and sacked the temple, the Ark of the Covenant was taken, never to be found again.
The Ark of the Covenant was not just a box with religious articles in it. It was where God resided among the Israelites in the Holy of Holies. On the Ark of the Covenant was the mercy seat where God met the High Priest and spoke to the people while being hidden in smoke or a cloud.
For almost 600 years, God had not resided among his people. He had not spoken through his prophets for 400 years. It was a spiritually dark time for the nation of Israel. It was not God's choice but the result of the nation of Israel turning its back on God. Much like where the United States and most of the world are today, most of the people who even still worshiped God had made their worship into just ritual and tradition, as many who consider themselves Christians do today. God's people were lost.
God needed to do something, so he did what no one else could do. He came as one of us; Jesus, God in the flesh. He was born of Mary with no earthly father. He was circumcised and named according to the law of God. And now, just 40 days into his earthly life, Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, enters the temple. Not in smoke or a cloud or the Ark of the Covenant, but in the arms of Mary his mother. The infinite God has come back into the temple almost 600 years after he had left the temple; a living, breathing baby, God in the flesh, enters the temple.
Jesus is the "Ark of the Covenant" in person. There will be no return of the "Ark of the Covenant," for there is no need. God Incarnate, the "Great I Am that saves," has entered our lives, not hidden in smoke or a cloud, but as one of us bringing all people who will accept it the gift of comfort and consolation between God and us.
So you see, in Jesus' circumcision and naming, his entire life is explained. The shedding of his blood in his circumcision foreshadows his blood being shed on the cross where our sin, and our death were removed and cut off so that we might have the true circumcision of our heart, as we are told in Colossians 2:11, "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."
In his name, we hear "Yahweh saves" and are saved from God's wrath because Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the one promised after Adam and Eve sinned. He is the one who stood in the courtroom of God and was found guilty and punished instead of us, even though we still deserve to be punished. He is the one who now turns and says to us, as we stand in amazement at what we just heard, "You are guilty yet not guilty." "Why are you still standing here? Go, live your life, for God chooses you to be his and do good works in his name. Amen
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Rev. Dennis Rhoads
Vacancy pastor. LCMS