Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Mark of God’s People

Sermon for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus preached on Sunday, January 1, 2017, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich

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 (Gal 3:26-27).

Markers identify people, places, and things.  Uniforms identify people according to their professions.  Monuments mark places where history was made.  And logos label different brands of cars, clothing, and computers.  Markers are found all around us, even on us.  You bear the mark of God’s people, you bear the mark of Baptism, the circumcision that’s made without hands, and this mark affects your whole life.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, the day when our Lord received the mark that identified Him as an offspring of Abraham.  Eight days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took their baby boy to be circumcised in order to fulfill the law that God gave Abraham all the way back in the Genesis.

When Abraham was still a relatively young man at the age of 99 God made a covenant with him.  This was a promise to make him the father of a multitude of nations.  God would give Abraham who had no child generations upon generations of offspring.  Kings would come from his line and in his offspring all families would be blessed (Gn 12:3).

This covenant made Abraham and his children God’s people.  God claimed them as His own.  He promised to be their God.  This was a promise to take care of them, a promise to give them all good things.  This was a promise of life.  And the sign of this everlasting covenantal promise was circumcision.

Every male eight days old and up was to be circumcised.  Those who received this mark were part of God’s people and they received all the promises and blessings of the covenant.  Those who weren’t were cut off from God’s people, for they had broken the covenant.

Circumcision was a physical and permanent mark.  Every day Abraham and his offspring would see it.  Every day they’d be reminded of God’s promises.  They’d be reminded that He made them His people, and as such they were to live as God’s people, according to His will and commands.  This is what our Lord was doing as He was circumcised.  He was obeying God’s will, fulfilling God’s law, for all. 
All of the Old Testament points to Christ.  Everything in it is about Jesus, including circumcision.  The circumcision given to Abraham was a foreshadowing of Christ’s circumcision, Christ who is the true offspring of Abraham, the very One through whom all families are blessed.

Pregnant Mary in her Magnificat recounted all the wondrous things God was doing through the child she was carrying.  God was showing mercy to those who feared Him, He was showing the strength of His arm, bringing down the mighty and exalting the humble.  He was filling the hungry with good things and helping His servant Israel, just as He spoke to Abraham and his offspring (Lk 1:45-66).  In the Christ child, God was fulfilling His covenantal promise.  God, who gave the law of circumcision, was coming down in the incarnation of His Son and submitting to circumcision in order to fulfill His promises.

Jesus is God’s Son.  He’s all of God’s people wrapped up in One, and He lived the life that Abraham and his offspring couldn’t.  He lived the life that you and I can’t.

Because of our sin, we can’t rightly live according to God’s will and commands.  We’ve broken the covenant.  We don’t live as His people.  Instead, we live like we’re our own gods, doing whatever pleases us.  We exalt ourselves to God’s place, and we live our lives gratifying our sinful flesh.  We stand in opposition to Him, and because of this, we deserve nothing less than eternal death. 
But this isn’t what you receive!  In Christ Jesus, instead of punishment and death, you receive the life of Christ.  Christ was born on Christmas to take your place, to suffer your punishment of sin.  We see this just eight days after His birth, the first time He shed His blood for you.

His blood was shed again on the cross as He was beaten with whips, pierced with a crown of thorns, nailed to a tree, and stabbed with a spear.  With the shedding of His sinless, holy, and innocent blood, the debt of your sin is paid.  No longer is blood shed needed to atone for sin.  Christ’s sacrifice was the final sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, just as His circumcision was the final circumcision. 
No longer does God mark His people with a circumcision made with hands.  Now He marks them with the circumcision made without hands, made with water and the Spirit.

The mark of God’s people is Baptism.  In this holy Sacrament God washes away your sins.  The sinful man in you is drowned and your sinful flesh is cut off.  St. Paul says, “In Christ, 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.” (Col 2:11-12).

In your baptism, you’ve put on Christ.  God has adopted you and made you one of His children.  No longer is there Jew and Greek, no longer is there the circumcised and uncircumcised.  Baptized in Christ you are joined with all God’s faithful children, you’re one in Christ.  Baptized in your Savior, you bear the mark of God’s people.

When you were baptized, the pastor traced the sign of the cross on your forehead and on your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ.  This mark is permanent, and we retrace it every day, reminding us that we’ve been redeemed by the blood of Christ, reminding us that we’re part of God’s people, offspring of Abraham and therefore heirs according to promise.

This promise is the inheritance of everlasting life.  Remember what God promised Abraham?  That He’d be His God and the God of his children.  This is a promise of all good things, a promise of life.  
Having received the mark of baptism you too receive this promise of God.  He’s your God, and in Christ He’s given you all good things.  Instead of the punishment of death for your trespasses, your sins are forgiven and you receive the reward of life won by Christ on the cross.  This life is an everlasting life, a life that continues even though you die.

There’s no way that Abraham and his offspring could hide the mark of circumcision.  It was a physical and permanent mark that they carried on their bodies, and their lives were to show forth this mark as they lived as God’s people.  So too do we carry the mark of Baptism and as faithful offspring we show forth this mark as we live as God’s people.

We shouldn’t try to hide from our baptismal identity.  We’re called to embrace it.  We do this by daily repenting of our sins, by always looking toward Christ our Savior who shed His blood to save us from our sin.  We live out the new life we were given in baptism in acts of love to our neighbor, serving them in their needs instead of fulfilling the desires of our sinful flesh.  And we show forth our love to God, by singing His praises, by receiving His gifts, by giving back a portion of those gifts, and thanking Him for being our God.

As redeemed children of God, we live with the mark of Baptism.  Washed in those holy waters, we’re joined to our Savior, both in His death and resurrection.  We bear the mark of a circumcision made without hands.  Our sinful nature is cut away.  Freed from sin and death by the shedding of Christ’s blood, we became God’s people, and in faith we receive His blessings and promises.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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