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Great Is The Mystery Of Godliness

CIRCUMCISION

"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)

Today, on the 8th Day of Christmas, the church celebrates the Lord’s circumcision.

The most profound of all the Christian mysteries is the Lord's incarnation and the first proof of it is the Feast we celebrate today.

It is so wondrous a fact that St. Paul concludes in his 1st Letter to Timothy, Great is the mystery of godliness! God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory." (1 Timothy 3:16)

Yes, the first proof of the Lord's true humanity is his circumcision, the cutting back of the foreskin of his penis which was the Sign of the Old Covenant. Christians, for modesty's sake, have always spoken of these things circumspectly and that is only right. Indeed, a great deal of Christian art shows the Lord as a baby naked but in almost all instances with the genitalia covered, demurred, or otherwise blurred. But not in all! as we see above in the Philippe Quantin oil painting "The Circumcision" (1635).

Jesus is, as we say in the Small Catechism, "True God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also True Man born of the Virgin Mary."

The doctrine of our Savior’s divinity (through many, long and sometimes bloody controversies in the church's first 400 years) was contended for and established as a chief article of our holy Christian faith.

Without it we are nothing!

If it was only a man who died for us, however holy or special, it does us no good! Our faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and to be most pitied of all men. But because Jesus is "God in man made manifest" (TLH #134) his suffering and death, and the shedding of his divine blood have eternal value which have purged the world of its sin: so that now we are filled with joy. Now we stand justified before God. Now we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ of the Kingdom of God, beyond which there is nothing at all!

But being ever vigilant of the doctrine of his divinity let us not lose sight of the doctrine of his humanity. By his assuming human nature the Lord has: raised the sons of earth, and given second birth. He has restored humanity by filling it with his own holiness, and has made us truly human again!

He is True Man and, we, baptized into him become True Men re-made in his very image as God's children Good, True and Beautiful.

Yes, the Lord's circumcision illustrates his true humanity, a doctrine that must be proclaimed and defended as vigorously has his divinity. The Athanasian Creed puts it this way, "Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance [Essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance [Essence] of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting." 

And so it is the Lord's own taking on of human nature: body, mind, soul and spirit that reestablishes our own humanity as noble and good. Therefore the cultural doctrine that elevates nature and animal life above human life is idolatry.

The world and all that is in it was created by God to serve us, and not the other way around. The earth is not our mother, dogs are not to be reverenced nor animals preferred over people as the catechism of culture insists: because Jesus was made Man!

“Great is the mystery of godliness! God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory."

Moreover it is the Lord's incarnation proved by his circumcision, that also makes every aspect of our holy Christian religion incarnational. Palpable. Recognizable and perceivable by the five senses and not simply by emotional or mental cogitation. And so let us have no part in the odorless, tasteless worship of liturgical minimalists. (Which is a type of Gnosticism.)

But the Christian faith is as human as Christ himself. This is why the church catholic employs the five senses (including incense) as she liturgizes the Father in Spirit and Truth. And why, too, she ever contends against fundamentalism by the purposeful use of Christian images. Because once the Lord became incarnate, once he “was made man,” then we are able to perceive him through the visual arts. And these are much more than simple ornamentations, but conveyances of the Living Word.

“Great is the mystery of godliness! God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory."

Rev. Dean Kavouras, Pastor
Christ Lutheran Church
Circumcision 2019

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