Preached January 1, 2012
St. Luke 2:15–21
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We have arrived at the Octave of Christmass Day. You will recall that the octave of a feast day is typically a sort of echo of the previous feast day, a reminder and re–celebration of that feast. Indeed, today is more than that. It is the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ. The day when, as a Jewish child, born under the Law of Moses, there was done for Him the small surgical procedure required of all males born under the Law. It is also the day on which His name was officially conferred. For the purposes of the Church, it is only coincidentally New Years Day; Happy New Years to all!
Luke 2:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. In providing this action today, His parents Mary and Joseph were doing for Him the actions required to bring Him under of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. We are naturally inclined to ask ourselves, “Why would God the Father require His Son, Jesus Christ, to be circumcised?” The answer lies in the fact that this is a part of the Incarnation, God becoming Man for our sakes. Specifically, Jesus becoming a Jew, a part of God’s Chosen People, rather than becoming a Gentile, in order that the plan of salvation which God had been working out for many generations through the Jews, might continue through the Jews. For this to happen, God’s Son must become a Man, a Jew, in every sense of the word, including circumcision.
Let us return to the beginning of the Epistle lesson where we read: Philippians 2:9-11 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Think about those words for a minute. When was the last time you ever heard anyone speak the name of Jesus Christ in everyday conversation in a reverent way? Can you recall such a time? I would wager it would not be too difficult to recall when the last time was that you heard the name of Jesus as a part of a blasphemy. Yet here we have St. Paul reminding us that God the Father has given the name Jesus a status that is above every name, that at the mention of this name, every knee should bow both in heaven and on earth. Somewhere, we have gone off the track, we have lost the way. We have failed to respect the mighty name of Jesus Christ as we should, and implicit in this failure is also failure to respect God the Father. How much more damning behavior can there be than failure to respect God? Who do we think we are? Of course, there are many who openly and intentionally disrespect God. But how about the vastly many more of us who simply don’t even think about it? In our ignorance, we continually and repeatedly insult both the Father and the Son. Woe be to us!
By far the most essential part is the last line, that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This is completely necessary. Jesus Christ will forgive a host of sins, but we must acknowledge Him as the Lord; otherwise, all is lost for us.
The last two verses of our Epistle lesson are these: Philippians 2:12-13 12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. The Apostle begins by commending the Church at Philippi for having always worked well while he was with them and also when he has not been present. But then come some of the most frightening words of Scripture: work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Is he saying that we have to work our way into Heaven? Is he saying that we have to earn our salvation? Is he saying that this is a do–it–yourself project? What about the work of Christ? This is, to say the least, very unreassuring.
This command to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling is given to all Christians in verse 12 while the motivation for doing so is not expressed until verse 13 which speaks of God working within us both to will and to do his good pleasure for us. We may still ask, what exactly does work out your own salvation with fear and trembling mean? If we pause to recollect, the command appears in other forms frequently in the rest of Holy Scripture: that we must repent, we must make ourselves a new heart, we must enter by the strait gate, we must leave off from sin. In doing all of these things, we are trying to win our salvation. It is our own duty; no one else has as much at stake in the salvation of our soul as we do. Every man has the duty to be as happy as possible in this life while preparing for a life of eternal happiness in Heaven. No man has the right to throw away either this life or his soul, as both are the gifts of God. Just as a man feels his reflexive duty to save his life when in danger of drowning, so likewise he must endeavor to save his soul when in danger of hell fire. This point cannot be overemphasized. We see many today who choose to live for this life only, denying the existence of God and of judgement. The risk brought on by such blindness is the virtual certainty of eternal death in hell. Our earthly friends cannot save us. No effort of a saintly mother will avail anything for a son who makes no effort on his own behalf. Each of us individually must want to be saved.
It is also important that we understand what this commandment does not mean. In particular, it does not mean that we are to strive to deserve salvation based on some meritorious action. There is simply nothing that we could do that would earn our way into Heaven, and the who process would become an exercise in futility. It also does not mean that we are to atone for particular past sins. Again, this is beyond our abilities, but more importantly, that price has been paid for us by the Great Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Recall also the final words of the verse, …. with fear and trembling. The point here is to emphasize the importance of what is state and the great danger involved in losing it. Too many people make a wreck of their eternal salvation simply because they do not take the matter seriously. There are many temptations that we encounter along the way in the world, and there is always the danger of the of deferring our salvation. Many will be familiar with the mocking prayer joke that says, “Lord, make me holy, but just not yet.” While this seems humorous to many of us, it exposes a dangerous obstacle to our salvation, the wish simply to delay. Who knows how long we have? Can we afford to delay one second? Of course we cannot! There is not a soul anywhere that can risk a moment’s delay, and yet many postpone.
The Gospel lesson for today is the final part of the Christmass story. The angels are returned to Heaven, the shepherds come for their brief visit at the manger and then they too return to the fields, praising a glorifying God for what they had seen and heard. We have Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child in the manger, the traditional Christmass manger scene.
We read of Mary, Luke 2:19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. For nine months now, Mary has been witness to the strange events taking place within her body by the power of the Holy Ghost that have given rise to this new born Baby now lying beside her. This was a much as the angel had told her, and now she has much to ponder as she wonders what will lie ahead for her Child and for herself. She, and we, ponder this marvelous Child that has united His nature with our nature that He may become true Man.
We also read of Jesus, Luke 2:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. The Child, God made Man Incarnate, given the powerful name of Jesus, is lying peacefully in the manger, preparing to enter into a life of pain and suffering for the sake of humankind that will end in His death on the Cross followed by His Resurrection. Does He see it all even now?
Let us all be blessed in the powerful Name of Jesus Christ our Saviour and remember to hold His name in awe and reverence. This is a part of what we must do to work out our own salvation, a most important and necessary objective for everyone of us.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.