Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Circumcision that is no mystery. . .

Sermon for the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, preached December 31, 2010.

    On the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, I can't help but think of a cartoon in which a prophet responds to God by saying, "Okay, let me get this straight; you are going to give the Arabs all the oil and you want us to cut off what?" Few of us understand the wisdom of the choice of marks that God used to set apart His people.  Circumcision as God's mark of a covenant relationship is indeed a mystery to us.  But Jesus' circumcision is no mystery to us.  It is His circumcision that counts most of all for by it He takes our place under the law and fulfills all righteousness for us.
    In His circumcision, Jesus takes from all people the obligation of the Law and bestows upon us the wonderful gift of freedom.  At the cost of His own first blood shed, comes the wondrous gift of grace.  The law will not more have its way with us out of fear of the consequences of disobedience.  Rather, the people of God will learn to know the good, to delight in that good, and to do that good because God has granted them the new birth of circumcision's replacement - baptism.
    Sadly, we live with the great temptation to begin our new year not in the freedom of the Gospel but under the dominion of the law.  Resolutions to change our flawed and failed ways are nothing more than the voice of the law who thinks that we on our own have the power to change.  The resolutions of change proceed from the misconception that it is matter of will and not inability to be good, holy, and righteous.
    We are so stuck to the law that we still think that righteousness is something that can be earned, that holiness can be achieved with the right frame of mind, and that if we are rightly motivated and follow through, we can make ourselves into better people.  But this is itself a lie.
    It is the worst thing we can do to begin the new year under the Law.  Christ shed His blood in circumcision in order to take the burden of the Law from us.  By thinking that it is a matter of will and follow through, we set ourselves up for great disappointment in our failures.  By striving to make our own changes in life, we place ourselves in captivity to our worst fears – that we will screw it up again and that Christian life is an impossible task.
    The gift of God is the Gospel – the great exchange in which Jesus takes on our burden of the Law and gives to us the easy yoke of His grace.  The gift of God is the Gospel – the willingness of Jesus to be what we can never be so that the voice of the Law will be stilled and its accusation no longer condemn us.  This is why we begin the year with the first shedding of our Lord's blood.
    The year is past, like those before it.  It is not simply that we cannot go back and redo what we did wrong, for those who stand in Christ, the past is not simply over but forgiven.  Through the blood of Jesus, shed here first in His circumcision and then on the cross, His healing wounds bear upon our broken lives.
    We begin 2011 with a fresh start through forgiveness.  But this is not like the restart of a video game or a simple do-over.  The fresh start is not another opportunity to try with our own strength to become holy and righteous.  No, we begin this new year wearing the clothing of our baptism in the righteousness of Christ.  He gives us this holiness as a gift to cover the stain of our sin and to enable us to approach the future without fear and with hope.
    Just as we end 2010 under the forgiving love of God, so do we begin 2011 under the banner of His forgiveness.  We will continue to be the forgiven in all the days and weeks and months to come.  Even as this forgiveness erases the fear from our lives, it also gives us pause to learn from those failures.  We are graciously forgiven in Christ so that we might learn again that to live under the law is to set our selves up for failure but to live in grace is victory.
    So tonight we gather not to sing auld lang syne or que sera sera but "The ancient Law departs and all its fears remove for Jesus make with faithful hearts a covenant of love."   We gather not as the melancholy who are sad over what we have lost nor as the miserable who wonder how bad the future might be.  We gather to remember our lives were born again through the blood of Christ. In these first drops of blood He shed, Jesus stood in our place to carry the full burden of the Law and all its demands.  By His circumcision He has made it possible for us to begin the year in His grace and favor.  So let us give up those foolish ideas that if we just try hard enough or get more serious, we can repair what is wrong in our lives.  Instead, let us rejoice in what Jesus blood has bought us and live our lives in that freedom.  Instead of striving to become what we can never be, let us work at becoming what God has declared us to be in Christ, His holy people, redeemed by grace, for the future God has prepared for us.  Amen.

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