2023-01-01 The 8th Day of Christmas
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a New Year’s Day hangover! Probably not for those of you good little Lutherans gathered here today! While the rest of your friends and family are lying on the couch taking aspirin and sipping water, you get to spend the 8th day of Christmas with your choice of 8 maids a milking or the circumcision and naming of Jesus! Ok, I fibbed. You don’t get a choice. No 8 maids. No milk. Only the latter for this is indeed the 8th Day of Christmas. And Luke tells us that “at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (2:21).
It’s a very odd thing to celebrate in our times. But in Jesus’ day it was a big deal. The 8th day is prescribed in the laws of Leviticus. It’s in the Bible, clearly in black and white. There was no such notion of waiting until a kid was old enough to decide for himself what religion he wanted to be part of. There was no sense of an age of accountability when kids were old enough to join the church or to be confirmed or any such silly thing. On the eighth day of life, every single baby boy born in the nation of Israel received the sign of the covenant and became a son of that covenant, an Israelite. And with his Jewish identity in circumcision, he now also gets a name.
And so the story went for our sweet Lord Jesus. You have to laugh at the Christmas carol that says “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” I guarantee He was crying when He was born and I guarantee you doubly He was crying when He experienced the fullness of the 8th day of Christmas first hand! This would be the very first time our Lord and Saviour would shed His blood for us. And the Lamb of God goes uncomplaining forth!
St. Paul elaborates on this 8th day of Christmas when he writes “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 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” (Colossians 2:9-12). To put it simply, when our Lord is circumcised, it is for us and our salvation. And furthermore, Holy Baptism replaces and upgrades circumcision. The new covenant in Christ’s blood is given to us in our Baptism, a gift of God’s grace for baby boys and girls and people of all ages.
Circumcision was the removal of the old Adam, a removal of the sinful flesh that weighs us down and makes us dead. Now in Baptism, we are buried with Christ and raised with Him too, forgiving sin and defeating death. So the good news for us on this 8th day of Christmas is that Christ our Lord has fulfilled the law for us. He has undone Adam’s sin. He has brought life and immortality to light. In Adam all die but in Christ, all will be made alive. Jesus kept the Law perfectly for us. That’s why our faith doesn’t rely on us. It relies fully on Christ and His full work of redeeming our sorry sinful selves. So we rejoice today in Jesus’ Name – the name that is above all names. For there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.
With our Lord’s Name comes the very promise of His help and presence. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He tells us plainly that where two or three are gathered in His name, there in that very place, He is. With that Holy Name comes the great commission to go and baptize, preaching and teaching in His Name that all people regardless of nation, colour, creed are forgiven by His holy cross and resurrection. His once and for all sacrifice is enough for all people. With His Name comes also the promise of prayer that whatever is asked in His Name, our heavenly Father will grant it. With His name and His name alone comes the promise of forgiveness, life and salvation.
It is with this knowledge that we can boldly flip over our calendars and start a brave new year. 2023. Who would have thought we would get this far?! All of you who still write cheques will have to train yourself to no longer use 2022 … assuming you made the switch from “19” to “20!” That’s 23 years ago already! Isn’t that crazy? It’s hard to imagine. The new year always brings with it a blank canvas ready to be painted and filled with events that we can’t even imagine yet. They may be good, they may be bad, they may be ugly! But even though we don’t know what happens in the future, it’s really great that we know who holds our future!
And of course, who can talk about the new year without addressing all of our grand New Year’s Resolutions!? After all the countdowns and fireworks and new year’s smooches are done, we have our new, fresh set of goals for ourselves, new changes we are going to make in our lives. And, we all know that such changes will be long lasting and permanent…A little boy told his father, “Dad, if three frogs were sitting on a limb that hung over a pond, and one frog decided to jump off into the pond, how many frogs would be left on the limb?” The dad replied, “That’s easy. Two.” “No,” the son replied. “There are three frogs and one decides to jump, how many are left?” The dad said, “Oh, I get it, if one decides to jump, they all would jump too. It’s peer pressure and none would be left on the limb.” The boy said, “No dad, the answer is three. The frog only decided to jump.” Does that sound like last year’s resolutions?! We all have great aspirations and great resolutions, but months later we realize we are still on the exact same limb. The bowflex is gathering dust. The cigarettes are still being smoked. The money is still being blown instead of saved.
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. … Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecc. 1:2-6; 2:11)
Ecclesiastes pretty much sums it up, doesn’t he? Vanity and a chasing after the wind. It’s a humbling thought but it ought to drive our hearts and minds heavenward. Life isn’t aimless if it is the new life in Christ we are seeking to live. None of us knows what the new year will bring. Health. Wealth. Love. Death. Who knows!? The days and seasons and years all belong to our Gracious Heavenly King. Everything we do and say must be prefaced with those words of St. James: ‘good Lord willing’ (4:15) But in the midst of our uncertainty, we have lots of God’s certainty. We have His perfect obedience for us, His righteousness, His innocence and of course His blessing. And above all, we have His Name, that precious Name of Jesus who saved us, is saving us and will save us from our sins. Thanks and praise be to our eternal God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit now in 2023 and to ages of ages. Amen!