Call It What It Is
Rev. Kurt Lantz Circumcision and Name of Jesus Luke 2:21
January 01, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear baptized Christians,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s call it what it is. That is the plea when the discussion has been dancing around the subject to avoid being too crass or offensive. Let’s call it what it is so that we can talk plainly, move the discussion along, and, yes, even set ourselves at ease from any added tension in tackling a difficult subject. Let’s call it what it is—Circumcision, and it seems a rather foolish sign from God.
When Abram was 99 years old and had only the one son, Ishmael, born to Sarai’s maid Hagar, the LORD appeared to Abram and promised:
you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram [exalted father], but Abraham [father of a multitude], 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.... 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.... So shall My covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:4-5, 10-13).
What a foolish sign circumcision must have seemed to Abraham. He was 99 years old. He had only one child but was promised to become the father of nations. When the LORD later promised that Abraham would have a son by his wife Sarah, she actually laughed and said, “After I am worn out, and my [husband] is old, shall I actually have pleasure?” (Genesis 18:12). And even though the LORD kept that promise, circumcision continues to be either the subject of rude talk or a subject too delicate to speak of at all.
It was a sign that hardly anyone should see, except when an attempt was being made to conceive a child. Why circumcision? Why not a tattoo on the chest, or a piece of jewellery like a wedding ring, or a pierced ear? Why inflict it upon baby boys only 8 days old? When we have a screaming child at a baptism I cannot help but think, it could be a lot worse for him.
I’m sure we could come up with a few reasons why circumcision makes a good sign for God’s covenant with Abraham, but overall it seems a rather foolish thing to do... unless you believe God’s promise. Then, of course you will do it. With faith in what the LORD promised to him, Abraham was circumcised, and all the males in his household. With faith in what the LORD promised, Abraham’s descendants were circumcised, every male at 8 days old. With faith in the LORD’s promise, Mary and Joseph had their baby boy circumcised and they called His name Jesus (Luke 2:21).
That seems a little foolish, too, that Mary and Joseph’s baby should have to be circumcised. That baby had no need of the covenant. He was already the holy Son of God. He was already Lord of heaven and earth. He was already King of kings and Prince of Peace. He was the one who made the covenant with Abraham in the first place. He was the one who gave the law to Moses from Mount Sinai. He had no need of a sign to remember the promises that He had made and was bringing to fulfillment. Yet, this baby, the eternal Second Person of the Holy Trinity, placed Himself under His own law, willingly, humbly, faithfully.
St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (4:4-5). It is foolish to think that Jesus had to be circumcised, and it seems even more foolish that He would subject Himself to that, so that we would not have to. By placing Himself under the Law, the one who gave the Law, has set us free from the Law. He has redeemed us so that we might have His place as sons above the Law.
This is the foolishness of God which we call the Gospel. It doesn’t make sense to prideful, arrogant, selfish people like us, but our only hope is to accept it in faith, to call it like it is—the foolishness of God’s love for sinners. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the foolishness of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
For the word of the cross is folly to those who perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The circumcision of our Lord falls into the same category as the crucifixion of our Lord. It is the holy Son of God placing Himself under the law to redeem those under the law so that we might be received as sons of God. When Jesus was just eight days old He shed the first drops of blood for our redemption. Those first drops primed the torrent that came rushing from His side when the Roman spear was dyed blood-red to prove that Jesus was truly dead upon the cross. What foolishness that God would become flesh and then shed His life-blood to save fools like us who ridicule and question the covenants of His love.
Let’s call it what it is. It is the foolishness of God. At least it is foolish in the eyes of sinful humanity. Yet in reality it is the wisdom of God that we are saved by faith in His promises, a faith that drives us to receive the foolish things to which He has attached His promises. We heard in the Epistle reading how the foolishness of circumcision for the Jews gave way to the foolishness of Baptism for all who would become children of God:
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, [i.e. there is neither circumcised nor uncircumcised], for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).
It is by faith in the promises of God that we receive His gift of salvation in the foolish ways that He gives it: through water, through bread and wine, through a bumbling man called to administer these gifts to His people. It is foolishness that God would save people just because they believe His promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ Jesus, given to us in Word and Sacrament. He does not save us because we are kind or because we are great servants. He does not save us because we are obedient or selfless or skilled. He saves us because He is those things and we believe it.
Let’s call it what it is so we can speak plainly. Perhaps that was also on the mind of God when He sent Gabriel to Mary and Joseph and told them what to name their baby. They called His name Jesus and that is calling it like it is. Gabriel told them: “You will call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31). It is as simple as that. Jesus means salvation. He is the salvation that comes from God.
He is God come to save, even if we think it foolishness that God would come in the flesh, in this baby boy, born under the law, undergoing circumcision, giving His life on the cross, instituting baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the Office of the Ministry to administer them.
Let’s call it what it is. Baptism is Jesus. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Let’s call it what it is. The Lord’s Supper is Jesus, which means salvation. “This is My body... this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26, 28). Let’s call it what it is. This is Jesus, your salvation.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.