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Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (ESV)

The Present Is Christ

Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus

31 December 2015

The medieval church, often bereft of the gospel, turned to foolish entertainments to lighten the mood of death and to rescue from the despair into which her children had fallen. Martin Luther spurned one of those mood lightening events when he preached at the Eve of the Name of Jesus. Apparently, preachers were expected to give "presents" in their sermon on that occasion. These presents were jokes and humorous stories intended to delight the hearers. The gloom of the law and the shadow of death could only be lifted by jocularity where there was no understanding of the gospel. A good chuckle is certainly a gift from God, but it is no substitute for the gospel of salvation in Christ.
The gifts that Luther gave were the gifts that the Lord had placed into his hands as an office holder in the church. These are the things that give the church true joy. Vaudevillian storytelling had no place in Luther's repertoire. He spoke of the gift of the name of the Lord and His circumcision for us sinners. The Lord's name was bestowed by the angel (Mt 1:21), not as was customarily done, at the circumcision of the child (Lk 1:59-60). His name was not tied to the observance of the law. The Lord Christ was named for the work that He would accomplish for us and bestow on us by faith. His name, Jesus, meant Savior.
His name was tied to His person, not to His obedience. He was Son, where we are only prodigal sons, proving ever our unworthiness of this sublime name. Since He already bore a name that was above every name (Phil 2:9-10), He had no need of circumcision, yet He submitted to the rite for our sakes. He fulfilled every expectation and requirement of the holy law that we might be freed from our debt to it. He made the law a debtor to Him that we might have our accounts cleared. We, who had no right to sonship, come to the full enjoyment of that title by grace, not by works. He bestows this on us by His submission to the law, His life, and His work. The Son sets us free to be true sons.
It is a pity that the twenty-first-century church is sinking back into the medieval practice of entertaining God's people. The truly appreciated preachers are those who can deliver a humorous and entertaining speech. We may laugh ourselves to death, entertained all the way to hell's guffawing gate. The appreciation for such preaching can only arise where there is no understanding of the gospel proclamation, that Christ was named our Savior and circumcised to free us from the law's circumscription. The true present is Christ.


Martin Luther
"It was customary to give the child a name at his circumcision, as we see here (Lk 2:21) and in the case of John the Baptist, to whom, too, his name was given when he was circumcised (Lk 1:59). However, just as Christ was not obliged to be circumcised, and this sign was empty in His case, so, too, His name was given Him beforehand through the angel, so that He did not obtain it through circumcision. This happened and was written that He should be free in every respect from the law and sin before all men and that He was solely serving us by submitting to the law and becoming like us, in order to save us from it, as Paul says in the epistle lesson: 'He was put under the law so that he might redeem them who were under the law' (Gal 4:4-5). For when death overcame him and slew him, without however having any claim or case against Him, and He willingly and innocently permitted himself to be slain, death became indebted to Him, having done him wrong and having sinned against Him and having handled all things inattentively, so that Christ has an honest claim against it. The wrong which death perpetrated against Him, is so great that death is unable to pay or to atone for it. And so death must be under Christ and in His power forever. Thus death is overcome in Christ and strangled.
"But since Christ did this not for Himself, but for us, and since He has made us a present of this overcoming of death in baptism, consequently all believers in Christ must be masters over death; death must be their subject, indeed, their criminal, whom they must judge and execute, exactly as they do when they die and on the Last Day. Through the gift of Christ death has become guilty against all to whom Christ has presented this gift. Behold, this is what we mean when we talk about being beautifully and happily redeemed from death through Christ; these are the spiritual wars of Joshua against the heathen of Canaan, notably the five kings, upon whose necks the princes of Israel trod by His command (Josh 10:22-24). So, too, circumcision did Christ wrong. He was not obligated to it, and so it is rightfully subject to Him, and He has become its master, has vanquished it and given it to us as a present, so that it must come to an end and no longer have any say over those who believe in Christ. He has freed us from circumcision, only in this way, He innocently submitted to it and donated to us His claim against it. Behold, this means once more putting Christ under the law, in order that He might redeem those who were under it (Gal 4:5)." 

Martin Luther, Sermon for New Year's Day
Collect for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
Lord God, heavenly Father, because You sent us Your only-begotten Son for our salvation and gave Him the name of Jesus, grant that we may begin the New Year trusting in His saving name and live all our days in His service and praise to the glory of His holy name; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For those who know not the saving name of Jesus, that they might hear of their salvation and be brought to faith in Him
For those persecuted for the sake of Christ's name, that they might bear up under the onslaughts of Satan, confident of our heavenly Father's promise of future glory in Christ
For all shut-in Christians especially, Pearl White, Lucille Herter, Reuben Braun, Robert Frerking, Rita Baker, and Anita Markwardt, that the Lord would grant them the peace that surpasses all human understanding

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Nativity c. 1515

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