The Eighth Day of Christmas
Is everyone having a good Christmas? I certainly hope so. While the celebration begins on 25 December, Christmas continues daily as the Father continues to send His Son to us. Meanwhile, according to the Church calendar, the Feast is only two-thirds of the way done on New Year’s Day.
Many people, Christian or not, use the western calendar’s New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day observations on 31 December and 1 January as a time of taking stock, evaluating decisions, and making resolutions. As I have for so many years gone by, I’ll be in church again this New Year’s Eve. Part of the service will include a corporate looking back: My congregation and I will confess our sins to God and to each other. We will receive the Lord’s absolution and also will forgive each other for any hurts we have done to one another.
Our New Year’s Eve worship will continue with the annual celebration of the Church festival commemorating The Circumcision and Name of Jesus. Some churches celebrate one or the other of these events, some both, and some neither. The appointed Scriptures for New Year’s Eve focus on the shortness of our time on earth and readiness for the return of our Lord. This is what most people would expect from the Christian Church at such a time.
Meanwhile, the readings for New Year’s Day have a completely different emphasis. The Gospel, which sets the theological tone for our worship, is the briefest in the Christian calendar: “And 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. (Luke 2:21)” Our worship includes eating the body of Him who suffered this cutting on our behalf and drinking the blood that He first shed at His circumcision, both in anticipation of His crucifixion.
The date was chosen because it’s the Eighth Day of Christmas. Old Testament Law (see Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3) required the circumcision of all males in order to bring them into the covenant. Normally, this was done on the eighth day. Once the Christian Church established a date for Christmas, the commemoration of His circumcision was set for one week later.
This day reminds us that Christ fulfilled all the Law, even that specific only to Israel. He who was “born under the Law (Galatians 4:4)” now was under the Law Moses brought down Mount Sinai. As far as we know, this was the first time He felt pain on our behalf, the first blood He shed. He suffered this and more in placing Himself under the law, so that He might “redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:5)”
The Name of Jesus is also important. As the angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)” Similarly, Gabriel told Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. (Luke 1:31)” The name Jesus (the Greek form of Joshua) means, “the Lord (Yahweh) saves” or “He saves.”
While planning for a new year and making your resolutions, remember the One who resolved to set you free from your sins and give thanks that He came to fulfill the Law for us who couldn’t and who has, indeed, saved us.
Often we hear the world ask, “What’s in a name?” Of the One born of the Virgin, born under the Law, the apostle wrote, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)”
As for commemorating His circumcision on New Year’s Day, what better time is there to give thanks that in His keeping of this part of the Law, Christ also prepared to receive us into His New Testament? Scripture carefully connects the rite of circumcision, the seal of the Sinai Covenant, with Christ’s seal of redemption that is ours by faith in Holy Baptism.
Paul wrote, “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 2:11-12).” He also said that “we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)”
With this knowledge at our disposal, even a somewhat trivial carol such as Deck the Halls can hold new meaning. In it, we sing, “That’s the way the old year passes. Fa-la-la-la-la-la, la-la, la-la. Hail the new, ye lads and lasses. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la, la-la.” As our old year passes, people everywhere will look back and wave goodbye to 2008 before commencing their anticipation of a brighter, better 2009.
Many Christians will be doing these things, too. However, we can also wave goodbye to “every weight, and sin which clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1)” as we remember how God cleansed us “by putting off the body of the [sinful] flesh” and making us new creatures by faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)”
Will you make the Lord’s house your “party central” as you celebrate how “the old has passed away”? Will you be there as the church bells joyfully announce, “Behold, the new has come”? God grant that the passing of the old year and the entry of the new will bring you joy and peace as you remember again that if you are “in Christ,” you are “a new creation.”
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Newspaper column #578