The Blessing of Abraham–Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, 2015
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