As I'm writing this, the neighbors are buying last-minute fireworks and snacks to herald in a new year with family and friends. Excitement abounds from Times Square to Santa Fe as we're given another opportunity to let go of the past and start on a clean slate.
Many Christians however, acknowledge tonight as the eve of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, as recorded in Luke 2:21: It, too, promises a new start--not by the resolve of man, but by divine will.
"And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb."
The foreskin on the male child was removed, signifying that he was placed in covenant with God under His parents' obligations to the Law until he was old enough to assume responsibility for his own behavior before God and man (at age 12). The child also received his name, publicly proclaimed by the father to the priest and all in attendance. Do you remember the dramatic story of Zechariah naming his son, John? (Luke 1:57-66)
A great article at Anglicans Online starts out by rightly noting "The Circumcision of Christ is elided (omitted) by Bible-readers and many preachers today because it strikes us as culturally inappropriate, strange, unfamiliarly Jewish, or something we just don't want to talk about. (The day probably passes unnoticed on the calendar for most.)"
That is so true! I never heard of this observance until I was over fifty-years of age, although I had often seen it listed on calendars. I naively assumed it was Roman Catholic in origin, but the Feast was well-entrenched by the 500s A.D. in the early, undivided church. It is even mentioned by St. Augustine.
Thus, does this ancient feast hold any significance for modern Christians?
Yes, for it was not at the scourging and the Cross where Jesus first shed His blood for us, but at His circumcision!
"Gentle Jesus meek and mild, as a son of Abraham, become a son of the law through the ritual cutting of his flesh. This was a favourite text for medieval and renaissance preachers, and as the pioneering, fascinating research of Leo Steinberg has shown, it was a common motif in pre-modern and early modern Christian art. It cemented the seriousness, the completeness, the costliness, of God's incarnation as a Jewish boy. It clarified beyond all question that God really was here to be with us in every aspect of our lives as a real human being." (Ibid.)
God, the Son assumed human flesh and voluntarily placed Himself under the tyranny of the Law and its salvation by works. He had to obey it perfectly, not relying on the blood of bulls and goats, but His own.
The purpose of the Law of Moses has been greatly misunderstood, and thereby misused in the Church. It was implemented ONLY when the Israelites would not trust God by faith, as did their father Abraham!
It was designed to be a temporary, external restraint until another Adam would arrive (Jesus) to undo the curse brought on by the disobedience of the first Adam.
Given the name JESUS (Savior), Christ lived an obedient life in fulfillment to all the Law requires. He passed the three tests Adam failed--lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
In other words:
1) self-gratification (command the stone to turn into bread)
2) self-promotion (worship the devil for power and fame)
3) self-protection (jump presumptuously off the pinnacle of the Temple to "prove" Himself)
(All temptations faced by humanity today still fall into one of these three categories)
(All temptations faced by humanity today still fall into one of these three categories)
Jesus, fully God and fully Man, did not need the eternal benefits of the righteousness He won. He gives it, completely and freely, to those who receive what He did by faith as an act of grace in their lives. He earned it so you don't have to; He pleased the Father for all in Adam who cannot be good--in all ways and at all times--no matter how much religious will power is exerted!
Let's look at it this way.
Jesus' redemptive work was two-fold: the way he lived and the way he died. Both aspects were ratified in blood.
Christ could not morally give you good standing with the Father while your sins were on the books; therefore, though innocent of any original or personal sin, He claimed yours, along with all of humanity's as His, and became "as sin" (bearing the consequences). (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Until Christ came, bulls and goats had to be continually sacrificed to cover, but not cleanse the sin problem. At the Cross, Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice for all time; His blood was powerful to ransom corrupted humanity's past, present, and future.
With the bondage to human self-righteousness broken, Christ made His unblemished standing before God available in its place...not just so we could be cleared of all charges, but restored to an intimate, ongoing relationship with the Godhead!
Based on Christ's active and passive obedience--in life and death--man is not only forgiven and justified (declared not guilty), but loved, adopted, and wonderfully parented by God!
"Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11 The Message)
In His presence we are not only clean, but filled with His grace and goodness; we experience healing from the dysfunctions of being born in Adam and receive the sufficiency of being born again in Christ. And we keep ourselves spiritually clean through daily repentance and forgiveness.
Did you know the number "8" in Jewish symbolism represents new beginnings? That's why, also on the day of His circumcision, God, the Son incarnate was given his earthly name, JESUS. It means "Savior".
Our given names come from various people and places--aunts, uncles, celebrities...even flowers. We often get teased and ridiculed as a result. Our parents can do things to shame the family name. So much of our identity is shaped in childhood by other descriptive names we are called based on appearance, ability or social standing.
In Revelation 2:17, the Holy Spirit reveals that all of us who have become God's adopted children by grace have a special name known only to Him. The day will come, however, when He will make that name known to us face to face--a name so suitable because it was chosen by the One who knew us before we were placed in our mothers' wombs!
I am an adopted child who was legally transferred out of an abusive and poverty-stricken identity into one of safety and abundance. My adoptive parents changed my first name and gave me their last name. The court decreed that from that moment on, I was to be treated and legally acknowledged as if I were the natural child of the couple.
Jesus made it possible for all in Adam who desire a new life to be adopted by God with all of the same benefits He enjoys as the begotten Son! As joint-heirs, we have a new name, identity, and family status that can never be taken away from us.
Do we live in the vibrant reality of that truth? If not, we can begin right now as we approach the first day of 2011!
Christmas is the biggest celebration of the year for most people, but God assuming human flesh was not enough to secure our redemption. He had to personally right the wrongs that man could not. He began the day He was placed UNDER the Law in order to OVERCOME its curse. Jesus did not fail, but fulfilled the Law.
Therefore, I can resolutely face what's ahead with joy and hope. How? Because I stand before the Father as one who has already fulfilled, not failed the Law, for I have imputed to me (genuine ownership) the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST !
Whatever I need is in His limitless supply; whatever I need to BE in the coming year as I grow in grace is found in Him and His power, not the ghostly Adam of my past with its sabotaged resolutions.
"With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
"God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
"The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us." (Romans 8:1-4 The Message)