Circumcision and Holy Name of Jesus

Circumcision and Name of Jesus.23 Numbers 6:22-27, Luke 2:21

One of the best birthday cards I ever got had a cartoon of a cheerful-looking baby boy whose parents are looking away, pensively, and a caption that reads: “It is traditional, at the birth of a male child, to circumcise him.” Then you open the card and see a big birthday cake, a relieved older child, with the message: “Fortunately, subsequent birthdays are traditionally celebrated with cake.”

A good card. It makes a good point about circumcision, a sensitive subject that calls to mind Dennis Miller’s comment when he was doing Monday Night Football with Dan Dierdorf who mentioned a player was out for “minor groin surgery” and Miller shoots back, “Dan; there’s no such thing as minor groin surgery!”

To be sure! And we’re talking circumcision today because—though it is technically a minor festival—we, with Miller, treat it as not so minor at all!; and this year it falls on a Sunday and we’re committed to celebrating all the festivals that fall on a Sunday, here at OSLC.

Now, my attitude towards circumcision is much like Jack Handy’s towards the Amazon River, who said, if he ever did have to talk about it, “I hope I will bring a spirit to the subject that conveys to the hearer, ‘Hey; we are going to have fun with this thing’.”

And away we go…

What is circumcision? What exactly is the point of it? Well, it was part of God’s testament with Abram, back in Genesis 17, the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham and his offspring, to mark Abraham as one who is both father of, and redeemed by Christ the Crucified.

Abram is 99 years old in Genesis 17 and God appeared to him and said “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless, that I may make my covenant [actually a berith is not just any covenant, but a last will and testament, not something both parties contribute to but a pure gift, an inheritance given at the death of the testator] between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”

Abram falls on his face at this point and God re-names him, changing “Abram” (exalted father) to “Abraham” (father of a multitude) promising a multitude of nations and kings shall come from Abraham. “And God said to him… I will establish my testament between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting testament, 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 sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting holding, and I will be their God.”

BTW Paul, in Gal. 3:15, points out that “offspring” in this verse is singular not plural, refers to Christ, singular—not to all Israelites. Which means the land belongs not to all Israelites as a birthright, but to Abraham and to Christ Jesus. Kinda changes the concept of “holy land”, doesn’t it?

Anyway, in Genesis 17, circumcision comes into the picture: After promising to turn childless Abram into mighty nations,

“God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my testament, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my testament, 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 testament between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised [all the males of Abraham’s household, even foreign-born slaves]. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my testament [rejected the divine inheritance—see what God did there? Uncircumcised? Cut off? OK.]

And you’re like “OK, but what does this have to do with us? We don’t practice the religious rite of circumcision anymore. We celebrate with cake!”

Ah, this is where it gets interesting, a little divine and spooky! In Colossians 2:11 St. Paul tells us:

“In Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily… and, 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 trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in it.”

So, becoming a child of God still requires cutting, but the New Testament circumcision rite is divine, supernatural, something otherworldly, done without human hands. There’s still blood shed, for sure; only—it’s not ours!—it’s the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses the world from all sin. And we’re baptized into that, into his death, as Paul says in Romans 6, putting the sign of the testament no longer outwardly on our flesh, but inwardly on our hearts and minds, marking us as redeemed by Christ the crucified.

I like the knife-less part of the new rite, a lot. And that it is for everyone—male, female, Jew, Greek, barbarian, slave, or free. And by baptism we are all one in Christ, all forgiven all our sins, all made alive with Jesus to reign with him in heaven forever.

The New Testament circumcision isn’t minor groin surgery, like the Old Testament circumcision—which was decorative (like tats or body piercings, which are cool, kids; and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise 😉 OT circumcision was taking a good thing (human procreation) and making it better, holy, divine, making the offspring children of God through the promise to Abraham which he believed.

See, the organ that got Adam and Eve into all the trouble isn’t located in the groin area, but in the heart area… and not the physical organ, mind you, but the beating heart of our being, our inner child, desperately needing re-parenting.

This heart surgery is major; and while it is knife-less, it’s not bloodless. The instrument of cutting here is the cross of Jesus Christ, and the operation is done, as Paul says, without hands, supernaturally. Baptism is the procedure—a heart transplant—removing the heart of flesh and giving us a new heart, making us sons of God, re-parenting us by putting the Triune Name on us and the mind and spirit of Jesus Christ into us.

So, the circumcision of Jesus is a major festival for sure! Holy, divine, serious, and spooky! By bearing in his flesh the sign of OT Israel, Jesus—by his death on the cross and resurrection—has cut away all our sin, made a New Testament of grace, peace, and life with his people. Jesus’ Naming Day kicks all this off.

Baptism (you may recall) is also our naming day—the Name of the Trinity put on us, making us Jesus’ family, his brothers, sisters—the Name above all names at which finally, every knee shall bow—God naming us as his own…

And here is the real meaning of Christmas and Jesus’ naming. It happened on the 8th day, the 1st day of the new creation. Every Sunday in which we worship Christ as Lord, eat his body, drink his blood (recalling our baptism) is an 8th day, too.

Here, today, by word and sacrament, holy absolution, holy supper, we again become one body with Jesus, rejoicing in the cutting off of the sinful flesh and the signing and sealing of our bodies as Christ’s. In His Holy Name, Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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