The week between Christmas and New Year's Day is a pretty bloody week. I don't mean to say that it was an awful week for me personally. I'm not talking about the weather either although that was pretty challenging. I mean to say that the Church Fathers arranged the church calendar so that the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is a bloody week.
If you are still just a little bit confused, let's just look at some of the events the church commemorates during the first week after Christmas. Consider the day after Christmas - December 26. It is the Feast of Stephen. You know: Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen; when the snow lay round about Deep and crisp and even … Guess what the Feast of Stephen commemorates. That day commemorates the death of Stephen by stoning, the first martyr of the New Testament church.
The next day - December 27 is the commemoration of the death of John the Apostle and Evangelist. Now, while John did die of natural causes, he, never the less, suffered a great deal for the Lord. He was almost boiled in oil and he was exiled to the island of Patmos.
Then there is December 28. December 28 is the Slaughter of the Innocents. It is the day that commemorates the boys of Bethlehem two years old and under who fell to Herod's jealous rage when he tried to kill Jesus. Do you begin to see why I say that the week after Christmas is really bloody?
This wasn't my idea. The church fathers who first set up the church year are the culprits who made this a bloody week. When you first begin to study the lesser festivals of the church year such as the saints' days and so forth, you begin to wonder of the church fathers were really just a little bit sick. Instead of commemorating the days people were born, they commemorated the day they died. On top of that, the saints who seemed the most important also seemed to die the most gruesome deaths. It all seems a little twisted.
Then you begin to see the method behind their choices. The church fathers saw the day of death in this world as the day of birth in the next. They were not so much commemorating someone's death as they were celebrating that person's entry into eternal joy where there is no more death. They were not commemorating the gruesome nature of death as much as they were remembering the witness given in the death. They were not remembering the blood and gore so much as they were remembering the triumph of God in spite of the blood and gore.
So why am I talking about blood so much on this New Year's Eve? Well, tomorrow is another day of blood. [Leviticus 12:1-3] The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the people of Israel, saying, 'If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then … on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised." Tomorrow is the eighth day of Christmas, the Day of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus.
Circumcision was one of the many signs that pointed forward to the Messiah who was to come and save His people from their sin. God gave it this special meaning when He spoke to Abraham. [Genesis 17:9-12] God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.
Circumcision was so important among the Israelites that it became not only a sign in its own right, but also by extension came to mean the keeping of all the Old Testament ceremonial laws. Circumcision came to be the one act that defined the Israelites as Israelites. To say that someone was uncircumcised was a deep insult.
Never the less, as important as circumcision was as a sign of the covenant with God, the Israelites actually kept the covenant very rarely. We regularly hear the people say, [Exodus 19:8] "All that the Lord has spoken we will do," but we often read, [Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 17:6; 21:25] "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" - not "Everyone did what was right in God's eyes," but, "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." In spite of the tremendous pride the Israelites had in the sign of circumcision, they regularly broke the covenant that it represented.
Things haven't changed all that much. The first six letters of the word Christian spell the title Christ. You would think that Christians would be interested in who Christ is, what He did, and what He taught. Instead, much of what passes for Christianity today tries to get along without Christ. In fact an author named Michael Horton documents and mourns this trend in a book entitled, "Christless Christianity." He says that many of the really big churches are popular because they are narcissistic - that is they focus on "me, myself, and I" instead of on Christ and Him crucified.
The problem really boils down to the same issue. The people of the Old Testament, who lived under the law of circumcision, and we of the New Testament, who live under grace, both have the same problem. We both want to take our focus off of God and place it on ourselves. We want to be the captain of our own fate and have a god who submits to our will. Basically, we want to be God and we want God to be a genie who must grant our wishes. We all want to do what is right in our own eyes.
In spite of all this, God didn't turn his back on humanity. He didn't give up on men and women. Instead, he sent his Son into our world, and even into our very human flesh and blood as a man, to do all those things that we couldn't do for ourselves. Where we're arrogant and proud, He's humble and meek. Where we demand our rights and our freedom, He submits to the will of the Father. Where we daily sin much, He fulfills all of God's Law in our place. Where we deserved death and punishment, He steps in and dies the death that we deserved.
At His circumcision, Jesus - the Son of God - spilled His blood for us. He of all people did not need to, but He submitted in humility to the sign of the covenant. He placed Himself under the law. He didn't have to spend nine months in the womb. He didn't have to be a baby. He didn't have to do any of the things that humans do, but He did. He did them to take our place. He did them to keep the covenant for us because we never could.
So He kept the covenant. He shed blood. He shows that He is human and He gives us a foreshadowing of the blood that He would one day shed on the cross. He is the Second Adam. Just as the entire human race, men and women, received life from God at creation through Adam, so the entire human race, men and women, must receive salvation from God through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. His conception, birth, circumcision, death, and resurrection were not accidents. They were God's means to save us. In the First Adam, there was no distinction—all died because of sin. In the Second Adam, all may have life, because Jesus is the perfect Savior of all.
Jesus also received His name at His circumcision. This is another reason for celebrating, for His name tells us what He came to do. In the language of His birth, the name Jesus means "The Lord saves"! This is the name that angels revealed to both Mary and Joseph before Jesus was even born. Jesus is the one who lived up to His name by living, dying, and rising from the dead. Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins.
The little bit of blood that Jesus shed for us at His circumcision was only the beginning. The day would come when He would shed His blood and give up His life. In this way He would save us from our sins, for [1 John 1:7] the blood of Jesus [God's] Son cleanses us from all sin.
It is good that the church calendar is bloody. It reminds us of the blood that Jesus the Christ shed to save us. It reminds of the salvation he earned for us. It reminds us of the blood that cleanses us and gives us eternal life. Amen
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