Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Circumcision of and Naming of Christ

The Circumcision and Naming of Christ Luke 2:21 (ESV)
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.
It’s such a short verse, such a short passage, but what happens here, is so unbelievably important. The Christ Child is circumcised and with that circumcision is given the name by which all must be saved, something that could not happen except that this child who knew no sin, who had no need of the law, was put under the knife of the law, and circumcised, so that when we are baptized, our baptism would be a circumcision made without hands, A putting off of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ, the circumcision that we celebrate today.

Circumcision, why should this have such significance, that a little child a mere 8 days old, who has no choice in the matter, is subjected to pain, the letting of blood, deprived of his foreskin and injured in manhood? It perhaps goes a bit against our grain to think of this as being much significant.

Today most little boys are unceremoniously, indeed almost without a second though, subjected to this same operation as a matter of course. No Mazel tov exclaimed in celebration, except perhaps in the event the boy is Jewish. For most it’s a matter of hygiene, a preventive measure against infection. Not so for Jesus, for Jesus, for Mary for Joseph this was a deeply religious event that bound the child to a covenant made long ago between God, Abraham and Abraham’s descendants, that on the eighth day after birth all boys would be circumcised as a sign, as a seal of the covenant God had made with Abraham.

It was a rather curious covenantal sign though. Strangely curious, other gods worshiped at the time of Abraham, around the near east, would require scaring of sorts in various places as signs of devotion, even tattooing was practiced as a form of dedication to a god. But this sort of behavior God strictly forbids in the 19th chapter of Leviticus. To this day I run into people concerned about whether God will judge them for having a tattoo or not. Since moving to Utah, I have had the strange experience on more than one occasion of people being more concerned about the fact that they got a tattoo then that they are shacked up, hooked on drugs, and otherwise living in such a manner not condoned by the Ten Commandments, or in accord with the gospel and love of neighbor. Listen getting a tattoo of Daffy Duck has nothing to do with such practices forbidden by the 19th chapter of Leviticus. And such Old Testament ceremonial laws are done away with on account of Christ’s life, on account of his circumcision which he fulfilled for you that you might be saved with or without such mutilation. You might refrain from a swastika on your forehead though, just saying. Might not work so well for job interviews…

But yes, it is a strangely curious rite of initiation into God’s people that God commanded of Abraham and his descendants. But hugely significant! It’s a topic so awkward to talk about today, it almost can’t help but be preceded by jokes bordering crude. It’s a topic so awkward that the rest of the readings today all but studiously avoid the subject all together. Personally I think a recounting of this covenant made with Abraham would have been appropriate for the Old Testament reading, and the Col. 2 that references this event in association with baptism would have made a better Epistle. There seems to be an overwhelming desire to speak of his name instead of this rite performed on him today. We hardly understand it any more. Why should God require his mark there, in such a personal place? Perhaps because it was so personal a member of the body, perhaps because it was with such a personal and private part of anatomy, that Abraham first broke fidelity with God’s Covenant. I mean at first God’s Covenant had no such strings, it was but a promise that Abraham would have a son, that his descendants would be as the stars in the heavens. It wasn’t until Abraham thought he could make this come about on his own, by taking his wife’s handmaiden instead of Sarah who was passed her child bearing years, that God decided to drive home his point as to who was in charge of this covenant, and to whom Abraham and his descendants belonged. That is when he required this act, of fidelity. Does it make a little more sense now?

Perhaps this was not a matter so awkward for the time. At least in one place in the Old Testament oaths were sealed while holding this part of a man's anatomy. And even in the New Testament, people seemed a bit more knowledgeable about other men’s anatomy, than I care for others to have concerning me. Yet it was highly personal even then. And a poignant reminder of just how much God demanded of a man, not part but all of the man was devoted to God in this ceremony, in this rite, for one is hard pressed to think of a different place where body and soul are so intimately bound in the psyche of man.

But no matter how much God demanded it, it never seemed to take. Abraham’s descendants proved to be just as unfaithful as he, because this circumcision never could seem to devote the heart. Uncircumcised of heart was the accusation of the prophets. Uncircumcised of heart, and this led to infidelity of all sorts, and the worship of foreign gods, often requiring the use of that which had been devoted to God in this rite. And I dare say God’s people have not changed much in that manner, not in today’s society, where people are more concerned with a tattoo than an affair, or shacking up, or the pornography running their lives.

Uncircumcised of heart, how often do you find yourself not living in accord with the love of the gospel, in a manner that would communicate that love to your neighbor, the love Christ has for you? Sometimes its just a matter of being too preoccupied with yourself, to take time to help another, to even sit down and chat. You know what I can’t get over? How instantly annoyed I became Thursday morning, when the JW’s rang my doorbell. The only reason I was home, was a headache I couldn’t get rid of, peacefully sitting and reading a book which thoroughly engrossing was somehow giving relief to the headache. And the door bell rings, and even as I lost patience, I could tell it. Have you been there? Uncircumcised of heart, sin rearing its head, For some reason, we can’t do it, we can neither love God with all our heart soul and mind, or our neighbors as ourselves.

But that is why it is so significant what happened today, because here in the circumcision of Christ, body and soul were devoted to God, here divine blood splattered the floor as it coated the law’s knife. Here Christ made a down payment for our sins. Here on the 8th day, the child born, born anew that that created in seven days would be renewed on the 8th day the day of resurrection. Yes here, 8 days old, our God took a pledge to fulfill on our behalf the covenant made with Abraham. Here on the 8th day, he was circumcised heart soul and manhood, a down payment in blood, that his whole life would be in active obedience to the law of God, that calling on the name he was given there, the name put upon you when you called on it in baptism, the circumcision made without hands by the circumcision of Christ, you would be saved as his name promises to do. Jesus, the Lord Saves. A name only given after the Lord had spilled his blood to make earnest payment for your sins. As the angel said, "for he will save his people from their sins." And yes, baptized into his name, baptized into his life, we have been given the love of God, a circumcision made without hands by the circumcision of Christ, a circumcision that truly saves, because on the cross he paid in full what he paid down in circumcision giving all of his life over to God, over for you, that on the 8th day when he rose from the dead, you would share in the life everlasting. Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Hugh7 said...

"Today most little boys are unceremoniously, indeed almost without a second though, subjected to this same operation as a matter of course." This is no longer true, especially in Utah. Much fewer than half the babies are circumcised. So it's no longer a worry that he might be teased. (On the contrary, but children will find any excuse to tease.)

"For most it’s a matter of hygiene, a preventive measure against infection." Actually, the "hygiene" for which non-religious circumcision began was "moral hygiene" - punishing masturbation. When that fear ran its course, other excuses were found but they are bogus or exaggerated, slight reductions in rare diseases of late onset that can be better prevented by other means. The main cause of infection in intact boys is meddling, premature retraction before it is ready.

"Circumcision of the heart" is all you need, though really it might be better to just say "cleansing" to avoid confusion.

Bror Erickson said...

Thank you for your wonderful insights there Hugh.... Whatever, floats your boat.
In anycase, working with a Biblical Narrative here, and it uses the term circumcision of the heart for a reason. I sincerely hope that you are not a literature teacher, or that you completely missed the point of the sermon while getting hung up on the minutia. I mean, I was certainly not informed that circumcision was a masturbatory preventative, I dare say it hasn't worked.

Hugh said...
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