Shed For You
St. Luke 2:21
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Luke 2:21 “And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Shortly after Christ’s birth Holy Scripture records the story of King Herod who sent his soldiers to slay every male child in and around Bethlehem. Since he had no way of knowing which one of those boys was the Christ, he thought the best away to guarantee victory over God was to kill all of them; and so he did. The Church calls this the Feast of the Holy Innocents – a commemoration of the lives that were lost in this killing spree.
Even in the midst of the Christmas Season, the season that is to be about the business of proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest and peace, good will toward men,” we see a number of minor festivals commemorating bloody events. Indeed, God so loved the world that He sent His Only Begotten Son into the flesh to save the world. But the world did not reciprocate. Instead it responded to God’s gift by waging war against the Messiah and against those who preached the Gospel – men like St. Stephen and St. John.
December 26th is the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. December 27th is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist and Apostle, who was exiled to Patmos. December 28th, the Fourth Day of Christmas remembers the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem. Christmas is the shortest but also the bloodiest season of the Church Year.
There is one more Festival in the Church calendar that must be mentioned in this connection. This Festival, like all the others, falls in the season of Christmas, January 1st each and every year. On the Eighth Day of Christmas, the first day of the new year in the secular calendar, the Church remembers the circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ; for as the text says, “And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” Even here we have the shedding of blood, for that is how the Church commemorates the circumcision of our Lord.
When it comes to Christmas – when it comes to Christ – blood-letting comes in two kinds. The first kind we have already seen. It is the blood that is shed as the result of man’s hatred for God’s righteousness. When one who is unholy stands next to the One who is declared and made holy by God, there only one reaction: the unholy looks upon the holy and wells up with hatred and jealousy.
It has been that way since Cain spilled his brother Abel’s blood in Genesis 4. Jesus speaks of this reality in Matthew 23: “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:34-35). And again in Luke 12, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” (Luke 12:34)
This first kind of blood letting comes as a result of man’s hatred for God’s righteousness. It is conceived in sin and rebellion, and produces sin and rebellion as its only fruit.
But on this Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord, we see the second kind of blood letting – the kind that is the result of God’s hatred for sin. In the thinking of the Old and New Testaments, blood is life. It is that fundamental connection between blood and life that makes the sacrificial offerings of the Old Testament necessary for salvation. The connection between God and man is made in the blood.
Immediately after the fall into sin, God spoke the curse of death. At the same time He promised His Son as our Savior. After exiling Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, God killed the first animal to provide clothing for Adam and Eve. Thereafter, the shedding of blood as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the people became the centerpiece of worship. That would be God’s mode of operation for dealing with man’s sin until the time of Christ.
In fact, the only reason that all the blood-letting of the Old Testament had any effect at all is because it was connected to the blood of the New Testament Lamb. And here in our Gospel reading, we see a foreshadowing of that ultimate blood-letting. Even here at the Circumcision of our Lord, Joseph had to sacrifice “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” as atonement for his, Joseph’s and Mary’s own sins. Here Joseph was following the Old Testament Law as recorded in Leviticus 5:7.
At Christ’s birth, the blood-letting was still necessary and required by the Law. To be righteous, all male children were brought to the temple, the Church, in faith, to spill blood at eight days old. Why the males? Why this procedure? Because Adam was created first, then Eve. Adam was given the command and ultimately held responsible. And more importantly, Christ is the Second Adam, the One who fulfilled all the Commands of God the Father, even the command to spill blood at eight days old.
And so with Christ, a new covenant began – new in the sense that the annual blood-letting of animal sacrifices were coming to an end. Yet, blood still needed to be spilled. The life of the Lamb would be given.
That brings us to the second reason why Jesus was taken to the temple eight days after His birth. First, there is the Law. From the time of Abraham until the crucifixion of Jesus, the Law required a male child to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth.
In sacrament of circumcision, a child was called out, separated from the unbelieving world, and made one of God’s holy children. He was brought into the covenant through a blood-letting ritual ordained by God.
In his infancy Jesus obeys the Law in our place. Even though He had no sin, He bears the mark of sinners. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity became flesh, and now is taken to the temple to be identified with sinners. His circumcision became our circumcision. St. Paul says it this way in Col. 2:11: “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.”
It is here that Christ is given His name, Jesus, “the One Who saves His people from their sin.” This is what Christ becomes for us on the cross. He is the flesh which is cut off from God as He cries out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
In Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday God cuts off our sinful flesh and throws it away. On Easter the glorious body of our Lord rises from the dead. So also in our death, the old sinful flesh is cut off from us, blood is shed into the ground, and the old sinful nature and its old sinful house is thrown away. The old passes away and the New comes, year after year, Sunday after Sunday.
In the waters of our baptism, Our mortality puts on His immortality. In the waters of baptism our disobedience is replaced by His obedience. His life becomes our life, and it is a life from which we will never been cut off.
And so our Lord Jesus, whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of all our sins, continues to offer His flesh and blood in the sacrament of the Altar. He is here for you each and every time it is offered. Come throughout this new year to be strengthened with our Lord’s body and blood. Come throughout this new year to receive the benefits of Christ’s blood shed for you.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.