Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:21
December 31, 2015
“The Blessing of Abraham”
Since Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden people have marked the passing of the years. What else could they do? They could not stop the progress of time, or slow it down, nor stop the inevitable fulfillment of the curse God pronounced on the first sinners and their children: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” They could only watch as the years fled from them, taking with each time a little strength, a little beauty, a little vigor. They could only watch, and perhaps remember that they had not been created for this. They had been created to live forever.
But in the midst of the flying years stood the promise of God, which some few people remembered. It was a promise to take away sin and its curse, death. Adam heard this promise; Noah trusted it. Then many years after the flood when it seemed that everyone had forgotten it, God spoke to Abram and gave the promise to him. He told Abram, who was already old, that He would bless all nations and peoples on earth through Abram’s offspring. He wasn’t promising a vague, inconsequential blessing like we wish people when they sneeze. God never gives vague blessings. He was promising something concrete. Through Abram’s offspring, Adam’s curse would be replaced by God’s benediction and blessing on human beings. Instead of cursing human beings, God would lift up His countenance upon them. Where all human beings were polluted by sin from conception, God would bring about righteousness and purity for all nations through Abram’s offspring. Instead of all nations being captive to death, God would give eternal life again through Abram’s descendant.
But the years went by. Years turned into decades. Abram was ninety-nine years old and he still had no offspring. It seemed like God had not kept His promise. After all, can a ninety-nine year old man beget children? With a ninety year old wife?
But then God appeared to Abram. He repeated His promise about Abram’s offspring. And it was more than just a promise—it was a covenant, a legally binding contract. God gave Abram a sign of His covenant. Abram and all his descendants would be circumcised. That mark in their flesh would be a physical sign and reminder to Abram and his descendants that God was going to send one of their flesh and blood to take away sin and the curse of death.
When God gave this sign of the covenant to Abram, he also did something else. He gave Abram a new name. Instead of “Abram” which means “exalted father,” he would henceforth be called “Abraham,” which means “Father of many nations.” God’s promise to Abraham made him a new person, gave him a new identity. Instead of being barren, he would be a father of many nations, he would have a multitude of descendants.
Soon after, one hundred year old Abraham and Sarah his wife had their first son, Isaac. God’s word made “a father of many nations” out of a one hundred year old man. It did what it said, as God’s Word always does.
And then 2,000 years passed. Generations were born and died. All through that time Abraham’s descendants were circumcised when they were eight days old. It was a sign in their flesh of the covenant God made with their ancestor, a covenant that was intended for all Abraham’s descendants. A young Israelite would never have seen his father Abraham, but his circumcision was a physical testimony to God’s ancient pledge to send a Savior from the curse of death. It reminded of God’s promise that one of their flesh and blood would be that blessing to all nations. And it also symbolized something about what Abraham’s descendants should be as they waited for God to fulfill His promise. Their flesh should be cut off; that is, they should be separated from the sinful flesh inherited from Adam. By faith in the coming Savior they should put off the flesh and not fulfill its desires.
And now, today, eight days after Christmas, they bring Mary’s Son to be circumcised. Like all Jewish babies, He receives His name when He is circumcised, just like father Abraham got his new name at the same time God gave him circumcision. But unlike other babies, Mary and Joseph had been told what to name this boy by God, by an angel from heaven. He is named, “Jesus”, which means, “the Lord saves,” or “Savior.” He undergoes circumcision and His innocent flesh bleeds. But unlike all the other offspring of Abraham who received this sign of the covenant, Jesus is Himself the fulfillment of the promise. He is the Seed of Abraham who brings blessing to all nations instead of the curse—not just to Abraham’s physical descendants, the Jews—but also to all the Gentiles. He comes and replaces God’s curse on Adam’s offspring with God’s favor. Where Adam’s children are sinful from the womb, Jesus provides righteousness for all men that stands before God. In Adam all men die and return to the dust. But in Jesus all men are made alive, made not to watch the years pass with dismay, but to live endless years. He is what His name says—the Lord’s salvation.
Unlike Abraham and others who were circumcised, Jesus does not need to put off His flesh. Jesus’ flesh is unstained, innocent and holy. He did not receive the stain passed on with a father’s seed, because H was born of a virgin.
But He has come to put off the flesh nevertheless—that is, to receive in His flesh the condemnation for sin—for Adam and all Adam’s descendants. He sheds His blood on the eighth day of His life because He has come to later pour out all of His blood to cleanse and purify us of all sin, to make atonement for all our sins before God. By His death on the cross He will be cut off from God for us, and cut off and cut away all our guilt before God.
Through Him God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled. The world receives life instead of death, blessing instead of curse. And through Him Abraham becomes the father of many nations, because through this child people from every tribe, language, and nation become sons of God through faith and inherit the blessing of life and salvation which was promised to Abraham.
It has been another 2,000 years since Mary’s Son was circumcised and received His Name—“Savior.” Generations have been born and have died. Like Abraham and the Jews, they waited to see the Lord’s salvation. As they waited, the years passed, flew away.
We have now watched the last year, 2015, come and go. In that year, like the Jews and Abraham, we have doubted or forgotten God’s promise of blessing through Abraham’s seed.
Instead of living in unshakeable faith and certain hope that the blessing of Abraham has come and been given to us, we have often looked for our consolation not in Jesus, but in this passing world.
We have wasted time. We have lived according to the flesh and its desires, neglecting to seek the life that is to come. Like Abraham, as time passed we have doubted that God will keep His covenant and prove true to His Word.
This year is now gone along with its many missed opportunities, its unbelief and other sins, its disobedience and disbelief toward the true and faithful God.
But that sorry history of our failure, along with the whole history of Adam’s race, is cut off. Our speedy course toward the grave, the curse on sinners, has been replaced with a new story, the story of God’s promise fulfilled, the story of blessing and eternal life. That’s what is taking place as Jesus is circumcised and given His name.
The old year with its sins and rebellion and failure, and even those sins, rebellions and failures still to come, have been swallowed up by the blessing of the God of Abraham.
The Lord has sent His Jesus, His salvation. By the blood He shed, in a trickle at His infancy and in a torrent in His passion, he has wiped out the record of our debt, taken ownership of the world, and history, and time, and you, and me.
He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
And He has turned the curse of sin and death into the blessing of resurrection, life, and righteousness.
We no longer receive a sign of a covenant waiting to be fulfilled, as the Jews did in circumcision. We receive Baptism, in which we are born again into new life, into eternal life and salvation. We are clothed with Jesus in Baptism and named with His Name, the name of salvation. As Abraham was renamed at his circumcision, we receive a new name in our Baptism. We bear the name of Jesus, and share His inheritance and kingdom as the Son of God.
And so we go forward into the new year in that name, the name of Jesus. We go forward knowing that death and the cross await us there, because we are in Jesus. We share His name and His life, His cross and His death. But we go confidently, knowing also that Jesus has made death and the cross the gate to resurrection.
All things are His. And He makes all things serve for the blessing and salvation of those who are baptized and believe in Him.
Soli Deo Gloria
The Epiphany of our Lord (9:15 am—schoolkids’ service)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 2:1-12
January 6, 2015
“Those Far Off”
–Today is the Epiphany of our Lord.
“Epiphany” means “the revealing of God.”
–It’s called that because God guided the wise men from far away to see Jesus in Bethlehem and worship Him. When they saw Jesus, they saw God, because Jesus is God become one of us, a human being.
–This summer in Vacation Bible School a little girl asked, “Where is God?”
I said, “God is everywhere.”
She said, “Why can’t we see Him then?”
A good question. What’s the answer?
One answer is—God is invisible. He is spirit. You can’t see Him with your eyes.
But another answer is that we don’t recognize God because we are born in sin, and sin
blinds us to God.
But now God shows Himself. He shows Himself in Jesus, the baby in Bethlehem.
–And the story of Epiphany is that God brings those who are far away from Him to see Him and be saved by believing in Jesus.
–How do we know God and come near to Him? We listen to His Word. We go to church, hear His Word, and believe in what the Word says—that God came to save us by becoming a human.
–But lots of people are not near to God. They don’t go to Church, don’t hear His Word.
–The wise men were like that. They were very smart and wise. They knew all kinds of things about the stars and the planets. But in their country they didn’t have God’s Word.
–But somehow they heard about the King of the Jews, the promised Savior. And then they saw a miraculous star that told them the King of the Jews had been born.
–So they followed that star. They packed up their camels with treasure and rode across the desert from the East for months to see the newborn King of the Jews and worship Him.
–Why did God lead them? Because the King of the Jews was for all people. He is God in the flesh who has come to save all people to the ends of the earth from the curse of sin.
–He saved us by being born without sin for us, by keeping God’s commandments for us, and then by receiving the punishment for our sins and dying under God’s judgment on the cross.
–Sometimes people in church take Jesus for granted. We forget that Jesus came to save all people, even those who seem the farthest away.
Sometimes people in Church don’t pay attention to God’s Word that tells them about this great
treasure from God, Jesus.
That’s why the people in Jerusalem and Herod were disturbed when the wise men came and said the king of the Jews had been born.
They weren’t ready for their king to come. They had other things on their minds, other things that were more important to them, that they loved more. They didn’t take God’s promise of the king and Savior as their highest joy and treasure.
That’s sometimes how we in the Church are. We take for granted the good news about Jesus that’s preached to us and have our hearts set on earthly things.
–But God wants all people to be saved through Jesus. He leads all people to His Son.
Those who are far away, who don’t have God’s Word or refuse to listen to it—who worship other gods. God calls them from far away to see Him come near to us in the baby at Bethlehem.
Also those in Church who don’t pay attention to His Word like they should and who don’t value it above all other treasures. God calls them too to see the great treasure of His Son. That means, He calls us to draw near and receive His forgiveness and salvation.
–Jesus is our great treasure.
He takes away our sins.
He gives us eternal life.
He makes us kings who reign with Him.
–The wise men gave Jesus kingly gifts—gold, frankincense, myrrh.
Jesus, the little baby in Bethlehem, is worth more than all treasures on earth. All earthly possessions that are dear to us, even the people we love most, even our own lives—are God’s gifts. But Jesus is God Himself, born a human being for us. He is the treasure that does not fade. In Him we receive God’s gift that endures forever and gives eternal life.
–The wise men bowed down and worshipped Jesus, giving Him presents because they believed that He was their Savior and a greater treasure than the wealth they were carrying with them.
–So we Christians, who believe in Jesus, also worship Him and lay down all our treasures before Him.
We do it because we believe in Him, that He is our Savior who called us to Him and gave us the forgiveness of sins when we were in the darkness of sin and death and couldn’t find God.
When we were little babies born in the darkness, He baptized us and put the bright star of His Gospel in our hearts.
And He continues to call us to Himself by the bright light of His Word.
So we in turn worship Him, lay our treasures and even our lives before Him.
And we pray to Him that He would make us stars that lead others to Him.
–Where is God? He is revealed in Jesus. And Jesus reveals Himself to us in His Word.
Soli Deo Gloria
Rorate Caeli—4th Sunday of Advent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 1:19-28
December 20, 2015
It’s a few days from Christmas, but instead of “Joy to the World” we have John the Baptist in the desert by the Jordan River. He is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” He preaches that we must be prepared for the coming of our God even though in our secular celebration of Christmas everyone is trying to relax and enjoy the holidays. John preaches that we should be awake, not asleep.
The priests and the Levites who have come out from Jerusalem to talk to John are offended by this. What does John think the priests have been doing? They’ve been conducting the worship of God at the temple. They’ve been trying to teach the people the law of God. They’ve been trying to make things straight among the people of God.
But John acts as if all that is nothing. If people want to be straight for the coming of the Lord they must come confessing themselves to be sinners and receive John’s baptism. “Among you stands one you do not know,” he says, “even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
But why are we listening to John? After all, we do know the One he was proclaiming. We know who Jesus is and why John wasn’t worthy to unite His sandal. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, the 2nd person of the Trinity—God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. He was begotten of the Father from eternity but born of the Virgin Mary; the true God has become man, so that He might deliver us from death. We know Jesus and confess Jesus, and we have been baptized in His name. So why is John still crying out to us, “Make straight the way of the Lord?” Why is he telling us to prepare when we already know what is coming on Christmas?
–First of all, not everyone does know Jesus.
Some think of Him as a prophet or a teacher
Others believe He is God, but that He has come as our example or lawgiver
He is so great and mighty that John is unworthy to touch His feet.
He has come not merely to teach the way of righteousness, but to bear sin, to restore, to bring human nature into union with God.
–Secondly, even when we do know Jesus by faith we are still always coming to know Him.
Ephesians 3:18-19 Paul prays that the Ephesians would “have strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Philippians 3: Paul says he knows Christ—“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” But he goes on to say: “[I want to] know Him and the power of His resurrection, and…share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Through repentance and faith we come to know Jesus again and again and more intimately. We participate in His sufferings, His death, and His resurrection. We experience life in Him, not merely knowing about Him intellectually, but participating in His sufferings and His resurrection.
–Third in Baptism Christ gives us a new life in Him, not merely knowledge.
A life lived in the assurance of the forgiveness of sins.
A life in which we are united to the glorious One whose sandals John was not worthy to touch.
Together with Him we are not merely servants, but sons and heirs of God.
As Christmas approaches let us heed John’s call:
Turn away from our self-willed lives, our life of sin apart from Christ
Look in faith to the coming one whose righteousness unites human beings to God.
Soli Deo Gloria
First Sunday after Christmas
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:33-40
December 27, 2015
Christmas as a secular, American holiday is over. In our society Christmas starts around Thanksgiving when the stores start advertising their wares so that they can rake in money for Christmas. Then Christmas comes; the wrapping paper litters the floor, family goes home, and the credit card bills arrive in the mailbox.
But in the Church’s calendar Christmas has a different significance. The great gift we receive is not electronic and can’t be bought at a store. Our gift comes from God. It is not an earthly treasure, but a heavenly and spiritual treasure. It is not a gift that gives pleasure for awhile and then gets old. It is God’s treasure, His greatest treasure that He values most—His only-begotten Son who has been with Him from eternity. The Son of God is given to us in our flesh and blood, in the womb of the virgin.
This treasure is so great that it passes human understanding—that God should become man. So we spend the weeks of Advent preparing for His coming. Otherwise how easy it would be to behave like a child on Christmas, who tears open his presents and ignores the ones that have great value—like a family heirloom or a classic work of literature—and is happy to receive the latest plastic gimmick toy that will break in a few days.
In the same way we prepare our hearts that we may see the heavenly treasure that God gives us on Christmas. And in the Church’s calendar the rejoicing in this gift of God isn’t limited to one day, to Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning. The Church’s celebration of the birth of our Lord extends over 12 days, to January 6th, the Epiphany of our Lord, when the Magi from the east bring their gifts to the infant Lord. It would be good if we could reclaim this long celebration of Christmas to bear witness to the world and to ourselves what the real treasure of Christmas is—God with us in the flesh—if we continued to celebrate Christmas in our homes and if we gathered to hear the word of our incarnate Lord during the 12 days of the Christmas season like we gather each day in Holy Week.
Our Gospel reading for the first Sunday after Christmas presents us with two prophets who utter amazing things about the baby Mary and Joseph have brought into the temple, just as the shepherds proclaimed in Bethlehem that this baby was Christ, the Lord. In the verses before our text, Simeon has taken the baby Jesus in his arms and sung the Nunc Dimittis—“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” He says, “Now I can die, because in this baby I have seen the salvation God has promised since the beginning of the world.”
Also the prophetess Anna praises God when she sees the baby in Mary’s arms. She tells everyone who is waiting for Jerusalem to be redeemed—that is, set free from slavery—about this baby, saying that He is the Redeemer sent by God. And so Mary and Joseph are amazed at what is said about Him, even though they have already heard many things like it from the angel Gabriel and the shepherds.
But now comes the first inkling that Mary and Joseph have about what it will mean for this Child to be the Christ, the Redeemer, the promised King. Simeon warns that not everyone will accept this child. He is “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” Many among the people of Israel will trip and stumble over Jesus. They will be offended by Him and reject Him. He will be “a sign that is opposed.” Though He is God’s Son, many will speak against Him and try to stand in His way. And as a result pain will come to Mary and to all who love Jesus: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” In this way this infant Jesus will reveal what is in the hearts of many people. He will reveal that some who appeared to be godly did not know their God and Lord at all. But for others, He will be the cause of rising; He will lift up those who were cast down in sin and death and be the cause of their glorification.
But all this is so far in the future. How can Mary and Joseph understand what the prophets are saying? They can’t. They simply have to hold on to their words, along with the words of the angels and the shepherds, by faith. They have to hold on to God’s Word that this infant they bring home to Galilee, despite appearances, is not just a baby, but the Lord of Israel in human flesh, the promised Messiah, the King who comes to save His people.
Then St. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph and Jesus went home to Nazareth in Galilee. And then what did the infant Lord do? Did He make Mary and Joseph’s house a place of miracles? Was Joseph’s business blessed and made successful by the presence of the Lord in his house? We hear nothing from Luke that suggests that Jesus did any miracles or signs while He was in His parents’ house.
What do we hear? “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.”
Jesus, like all children, grew up. Though He was God He matured and grew physically and intellectually like every human child. In fact, the majority of His time on earth, Jesus was a child and a young man growing up in His parents’ house.
We all know growing up is not easy. It’s hard to be a child under your parents’ authority. Children often feel like they’re in a holding pattern until they become adults and can do what they want.
On the other hand, parents and grandparents know how easy it is to make decisions when you’re young that set the whole course of your life—choices made without experience and wisdom. That’s why we try to guide and shape our children and grandchildren and not leave them to their own way.
Childhood and youth is really a time to submit to your parents’ authority, as God commands us to do in the 4th commandment, to learn wisdom and be prepared to serve God and your neighbor in your adult life.
Happiness in childhood and young adulthood is really found in the same place it’s found in adulthood, middle age, and in old age. True happiness isn’t found pursuing the desires and dreams of youth, but in knowing God and serving Him.
Yet childhood and youth is the time when many people—even most people—begin to stray from God. The Bible recognizes this, which is why King David wrote in the 25th psalm: “Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions; according to thy steadfast love remember me, for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord!” (v. 7)
(Not Jesus. He was filled with wisdom.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7)
As a child and young man He knew God, trusted God, was godly, obeyed His parents.
The favor/grace of God was on young Jesus because He always did what was pleasing to the Father.
Jesus is an example to children and youth. Do you want to be wise and walk the way that leads to joy, blessedness? Be godly in your youth. Believe in Jesus, your God and Savior. Follow His example. Obey your parents, gladly hear and learn His Word. Read your bible, pray. Learn the commandments and live according to them; repent and receive His forgiveness when you sin.
But what about those of us who are now adults, and who look back on childhood and youth and see the many sins of our youth?
How we served ourselves, not the Lord
How we did not listen to His Word diligently
How we did not honor our parents
How we established sinful habits that haunted us later in life?
Recognize these things for what they are and repent, even if you don’t feel as sorry as you should. Recognize that all the sins of our youth are foolish and separate us from God and His joy.
But Jesus is the one who makes it so that the sins of our youth are not remembered by God. He faithfully did the will of His Father.
God’s favor was on Jesus because of His perfect righteousness, obedience, and holiness
Jesus came to offer up His obedient childhood up for us as a sacrifice on the cross;
His godliness and obedience covers our sinful youth
So that we are sons and heirs of God (Galatians 4); we bear fruit, being engrafted into Jesus through Baptism and faith in Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria