Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 23:30 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On the eighth day of Christmas, our true Love gave to us—after a lot of birds and some golden rings—the fulfillment of the covenant. The Gospel reading for today, the eighth day of Christmas, is only one verse, but it is as central to God’s salvation as anything else that happens to Jesus, except His death and resurrection. “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” (Luke 2:21). He was called Yah-shua, because He would save His people from their sins. But how was He going to do that? By entering into flesh as fully human. And not just fully human, but fully male. In the fullness of God’s time, He sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem—to buy back—those who were under the law.
He is born under the law and the keeping of the law requires that He be circumcised, which can only happen if He is born as a baby boy. It is not an accident or a coincidence or an arbitrary decision. This is why much early Christian art shows Mary holding Jesus so that you can see that He’s a boy. You know what I mean: if you want to know whether you’re going to have a boy or a girl, the doctor is looking for one thing and one thing only on the ultrasound. Maybe you never thought you would be hearing about this in church on a Sunday morning. In fact, most of the time we can avoid it because January 1 is not often on a Sunday. But not today. Today it’s all about Jesus, the baby boy, circumcised and named on the eighth day.
It goes all the way back to Abraham in Genesis 15. God makes a covenant with Abraham, gives Him a promise about His descendants. But the Hebrew word for making a covenant is actually to cut a covenant. So God has Abraham gather some of his animals and cut them in half, except for the birds. The way you make sure that both people are going to keep up their ends of the covenant is that both people walk through these sacrificed animals, and essentially you’re promising that if you are the one to break the covenant, then you will die. So we expect both God and Abraham to move through these divided animals. But that’s not what happens. In fact, Abraham’s not even awake. He is dead asleep. And this isn’t just the normal kind of sleep. This is the sleep into which God put Adam so that He could make Eve from his side. Abraham is dead asleep, and God makes the covenant with Him. Only God moves through the pieces of the animals, in the form of a flaming torch and a fire-pot.
And then, in Genesis 17, God gives Abraham the physical sign of this covenant promise: you and every male must be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. And after this, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day. Like nine or ten times in this chapter, it says it: circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. We can’t avoid it! This sign of the covenant is so serious that if any male of Israel is not circumcised (which means to cut around), then that one will be cut off from the covenant that God cut with Abraham. Lots of cutting going on.
When God made the promise to Abraham, He told him that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land, and that He would free them and give them the land of Canaan. So He brought them out of slavery and through the Red Sea and to Sinai. And there He said to them: I am Yahweh your God who brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. He was their God and they were His people. How will His people be? You will not have any other gods before My face, nor make any images of those other gods to worship them. You will not misuse My Name and use it for empty things, taking it in vain. Because God will not hold guiltless those who misuse His Name. And you will honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. And you will honor your father and mother, and so live long in the land. You will not murder, and you will not have any sexual relationships outside of marriage, and you will not steal what I have given to anyone else, and you will not bear false testimony and so harm other people’s reputations, and you will not covet and desire what I have given to anyone else. This is a summary of what the covenantal people of God will do and be like.
Well, how did they do with that? Did they destroy all the other gods and worship Yahweh only? Did they love and keep His commandments? Did they love their neighbors as themselves, as God had commanded? Did they stay long in the land because they heard and believed what their fathers and mothers taught them of Yahweh? You can check the Book of Judges for the evidence. And in Jeremiah, God specifically references the covenant with Abraham and says that His people broke it and He was going to destroy the land and send them into exile (Jeremiah 34:18-20).
And how about us? Though we were foreign to the God of Israel, not physically descended from Abraham, did we keep the law written on our hearts because the God of Israel is the God who made us all? Did we do what we knew was right and uphold the law written in creation? We can check the book of our culture and the world for the evidence. This covenant that God had made with Abraham, to which He had attached the sign of circumcision, was not kept, and so someone had to die. Of course, everyone who sins dies, and those who die prove that they are sinners.
But God is the God of the living, not of the dead. He is life, and He never intended death to be part of His creation or the end of His creatures. He does not end the covenant that He made by simply letting it come to its end in death. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law. In Him, the fullness of the divinity dwells bodily, so much so that He is born as a baby boy, and He is given the sign of that ancient covenant in His own infant flesh. He takes that sign as the beginning of His fulfillment of the Law and the covenant. So much so that even though He keeps the covenant of God in every point, someone is going to have to die for the breaking of the covenant, the sign of which He wears.
And He is the one. Only God passes through those cut pieces of sacrificial animals. And so God puts on flesh and is marked in His flesh, and dies, as if He were the one who had broken the covenant, been unfaithful, worshiped other gods, and broken every commandment. As if Jesus had not loved His Father with everything He was and did, as if He had not humbled Himself to love and serve every one of His neighbors fully. He bore the broken covenant in His flesh as if He Himself had broken it, so that those who had broken it would not have to bear the death required by the covenant.
But more than that, He made a new covenant in His flesh, just as God had promised through His prophet Jeremiah: in those days I will make a new covenant—not like the old covenant that I made with your fathers, which they broke, though I was their husband. I will put My Instruction, all My words, into their hearts, and they will all know Me. And I will forgive their iniquity and their sin (Jeremiah 31:31-34). He makes this covenant in the flesh of Jesus, the circumcised one, in His death and resurrection. And He gives it to you not by circumcision only for males, but by baptism into Jesus. He alone is faithful; He alone is Life itself. He alone keeps every word of God. And now you are circumcised not by the circumcision made with hands, which is the putting off of a little bit of flesh, but by the circumcision of your heart, which is the putting off of the whole body of the sinful flesh. God does this by killing you in baptism and raising you to life in Christ, and you are baptized into Jesus the circumcised one, and Paul says that you are saved by stripping off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Jesus (Colossians 2:11)! Day by day, you are stripped of the old sinful flesh, and day by day you are clothed with the Jesus into whom you were baptized. In this covenant, there is no more Jew or Gentile, no more slave or free, no more male and female: you are all one in Jesus Christ, and so you are children of Abraham by faith.
Moses gave the people the sacrificial blood that marked the first covenant—He said, this is the blood of the covenant that God has made with you. But now the new and greater covenant has been made, in which your sins are forgiven and you are made into new creatures: Jesus says, “This is My blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you. Drink it and do this in faithful remembrance of Me.” It is all here, on this eighth day of Christmas, as our true Love gives us a place in the New Covenant, by which we are forgiven, saved, and live forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/30/22