The Circumcision of Christ, 2017
The Epistle. Philippians 2:9-13
The Gospel. St. Luke 2:15-21
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
To some, this might be an unusual feast day on the Christian Calendar. Why on earth do we celebrate and why on earth does it matter to mention or even think about an event such as the Circumcision of Christ?
Of course we are a bit more uncomfortable with the topic than those in times past because the subject just doesn't come up in conversations at dinner, or at cocktail parties. It is only because of our fallen nature that we find discomfort or even humor in it anyway.
Most likely the topic of circumcision was not a party ice breaker in the time of Christ either, but it surely was an important thing in the life of the Jew and in his worship of God. Our collect for today tells us why it is a topic for celebration and contemplation and why it is important in the life of Christ….and what sort of spiritual implications it holds as well.
The collect says, “ALMIGHTY God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man…” So here is the first reason. This act was done for a reason. It was not only to have Christ obedient to the Law like every good and God-fearing Jew, but it was done…. For man…..for us. Christ was circumcised for us.
Here is the history and how it all started. Notice we are not told why God used this act in particular, other than it might have had at least a humbling affect on the recipient, it included a bit of pain to help remember.
Though it was done to many males when they were young, it was done to the adult males as well.
It was a “covenant ratifying act” but why this act in particular?
Some argue from the health standpoint, but this reason is not mentioned in the Bible. And looking at all of the things the Israelites were commanded to do from a health standpoint is a very modern hermeneutic or method of reading the text.
And Christ later on made all things clean and acceptable so even if it were secondarily for health reasons, why would Christ relax those commands on food and even circumcision if it were a health issue?
So much of the following quote refers to “offspring after you” and “generations” and “fruitful” and “multiply” as you will hear, so circumcision might have been a reference point and a reminder that through the act of reproduction, man multiplies.
Anyway, here is where this is first mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 17.
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.’
Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him,
‘Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.’”
“And God said to Abraham,
‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you:
Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. (there is the reference we pick up today in the Gospel….Christ being circumcised on the 8th day)
God goes on, “Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.’” (Genesis 17:1-14 ESV)
So God institutes this with Abram....changing his name at that time to Abraham.
Abram means “high father” and Abraham means “father of a multitude.”
So Abraham is obviously a pivotal figure in the Bible. This is where God sort of “officially” begins to separate out a person and then a people who were to be called out from all of the other people to be God’s people. They were to have a mark in the body identifying them from all other people.
They were now in a covenant…a pact with God. Abraham was now the first in a long line of people who would belong to God…..A people whom God would care for and ultimately save to everlasting life. Abraham was now to be the father to many nations and peoples. Whoever was born to him, and by extension whoever was brought into a covenantal relationship with God was circumcised and made a member by this mark.
It was a mark of obedience.
It was a mark of identification.
It was a mark of submission to ownership.
It was a mark of separation.
Think of baptism now. We see a parallel in a lot of ways between these two acts. No longer is the Law binding regarding circumcision. Now in this New Covenant under Christ, all are baptized. Flesh is no longer cut away. Water is poured over the person and this is the mark of Covenant with God, Separation from all other men, Ownership by God, and a Symbol of obedience and submission.
So Mary and Joseph, being good, humble and obedient Jewish parents, took their 8 day old Jewish boy to the Temple and there, presented him to the priest for naming and circumcising…to make Him a member of the Covenant…just as God commanded Abraham thousands of years earlier.
This was also the time when one receives his name.
The name given by the angel before he was conceived.
At baptism we have the god-parents “officially” tell the name to the priest as he is about to baptize the child. So there is another way in which we have done away with circumcision, and instituted baptism.
We might at this time tie another element to all of this. Recall Jesus was also baptized. In Matthew 3, we read this…and there is a line here that helps us understand both why He was baptized and why He was circumcised.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.” (Matthew 3:13-15 ESV)
This was done in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Why does Jesus say this?? R.C. Sproul - Well, it seems here, “…as if Jesus does not want to take the time to give John a lengthy, theological explanation. Instead Jesus tells John simply to do what He tells him, because it is necessary. Why did Jesus see it as necessary that He be baptized?”
“Fulfilling all righteousness for a Jew meant that every jot and tittle of the law of God had to be fulfilled. God’s standard is perfection; we are to be holy even as God is holy. In order that Jesus be the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world, He had to obey every jot and tittle of the law.”
“When John the Baptist came, God was bringing forth a new requirement of His [God’s] law that goes beyond the requirements He gave through Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament, and that new requirement, imposed upon all of Israel, is to be baptized in preparation for the coming of the kingdom of God.”
“To fulfill His mission, He had to obey every requirement that God had placed upon Israel and has given to man.”
Jesus fulfilling all righteousness means He fulfilled all that God required of man in the Law. Jesus being a man would not have skipped over any of what God commanded man to do.
Jesus was sinless and did not need to be Baptized but He also did this in obedience to what God had commanded John to do and to set into motion what all people coming after Christ would do to imitate Him and become a member of His body …to become members of this New Covenant.
Now the circumcision of Christ Collect also mentions another thing tied directly to this. Here is the second half of the prayer today…the second reason and why it is important to us.
We prayed, “Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through time same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
So here is where we are today. We are members of the New Covenant. The Old has passed away at the coming of Christ.
Circumcision is no longer a requirement to be a child of God. Rather, the child of God is now made a Covenant Member through baptism, the New Birth, and a circumcision made by the Holy Spirit ….on our hearts.
Paul writes this important passage in Colossians, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
…For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands,
Here is how it happens…. Paul says, “…by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:6-14 ESV)
And this was not really a new concept for at least Paul’s Jewish audience. They would have known well that the Scriptures taught in the Old Testament, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? …Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-17 ESV)
We have gone well beyond the main thrust of today’s lesson, which is the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. What we celebrate today is the obedience of Christ in fulfilling all righteousness…because we cannot.
Whether it was circumcision in the Old Covenant or Baptism in the New, the righteousness God demands is beyond the reach of sinful man. But it is not beyond the reach of Christ.
This day is a Feast Day in that we celebrate what Christ has done for us….not only in coming to earth for us.
Not only in dying in our place for our sins.
Not only in being raised from the dead, leading the way for us to rise from the dead as well, but in His obedience to the Father in all things pertaining to God’s Holy Law.
Thanks be to God that Christ has done even this for us.
This Feast marks another event in the life of Christ wherein He obeyed and fulfilled and was our substitute.
Israel, though following through on circumcision of the flesh, never quite fulfilled and lived out the true meaning of circumcision…which is to mark one separated out from others and a child of God and an obedient one at that.
Circumcision signified not only being a member of the family of God, but it signified one who obeys God from the heart. Thus the language again of “circumcision of the heart.”
Paul “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Galatians 6:14-15 ESV)
Christ’s circumcision was vital to His fulfillment of all the righteous requirements of God’s Law. And He did so perfectly, winning for us, who are not circumcised in the flesh, but baptized into Him and circumcised in heart, an eternal inheritance with all those who have gone before us as members of God’s Holy Church.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.