As we enter a new calendar year, we have already been in the Church calendar for a month or so, which helps us to think along the lines of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us, rather than allowing this world’s concerns to form our thinking. The first day of 2017 (as with the first day of every year) reminds us of another new beginning: Jesus’ entry into the covenant of circumcision that God had established with Abraham. But, because Jesus is both God and Man, He does not only enter the covenant as just one more Israelite, but as the Israelite, the fulfiller of the covenant promises to Abraham. Because Jesus was circumcised, because He full-filled the covenant, and because in our baptism we are clothed with Christ, we no longer need to be circumcised to enter into God’s covenant with all people. Just as He died once for all, so He was circumcised once for all. With that circumcision, He already hinted at what was to come with the shedding of His infant blood. Because He was “cut,” we who are in Him will never be “cut off” from God’s covenant. (That was part of the meaning for the circumcised people of God in the Old Testament: if their males were not circumcised, they would be cut off from the people of God.) But the Church celebrates January 1 for another reason: the eighth day after birth was also the day of naming for Jewish babies. So Jesus was given the Name which the angel had told Mary, Yahshua: “Yah(weh) saves;” because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21; cf. Luke 1:31).
It is good that this is the feast with which we begin 2017 and every year, because Jesus’ Naming and fulfillment of the Law is at the heart of why He took on our flesh and walked on this earth. Because we have been baptized into Him, into His death and resurrection, we, too, know that when we die, we will rise again. Jesus has already traveled this way, and we have nothing to fear from death anymore. St. Paul writes about this to the congregation(s) of Colossae: “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, 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 2:9-15, ESV).
It is fitting, then, to begin this new year with the following words from a New Year’s Day sermon preached by C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Missouri Synod:
“Should the Christian stand all day long at the grave of all joys which he enjoyed in past years? Through Holy Baptism a great stream of joy has been conducted in his heart, which does not drain away, but streams forward with his life untils its waves carry him into the sea of a blessed eternity. Should the Christian be reminded all day long that the flowers of his youth fall more and more? He stands planted by God in the water of his Baptism as a palm tree which becomes greener and greener whose leaves never wither. Yes, his Baptism makes death for him like a short winter’s nap, out of which an eternal spring—an eternal youth—follows. For Baptism is a bath that washed me not only once when I received it—washed me pure with Christ’s blood—but it continuously washes me clean even daily for as long as I hold it in faith. … Now then, all of you who believe in God’s Word, let your watchword for entering the new year be this: ‘I am baptized!’ Although the world may laugh at this comfort, the enthusiasts vex its confidence… nevertheless, abandon any other dearly held pledges and speak only through the entire year to come, in all terrors of conscience and necessity through sin and death: ‘I am baptized! I am baptized! Hallelujah!’ And you shall prevail! In every time of need, you will find comfort in your Baptism; on account of it Satan will flee from your faith and confession; and in death you will see heaven opened and will finally come into the joy of your Lord to celebrate a great year of jubilee, a year of praise, with all the angels forever and ever. Amen!” (Treasury of Daily Prayer, 1077-1078 [Writing for January 1]).
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”