Luke 2:21
We pass now from the angel's sermon and the shepherds' faithful verification of it to the next notable events in the great life which embodies the gospel for mankind. And we have here -

I. THE CIRCUMCISION. (Ver. 21.) This was the admission of Jesus when only eight days old into the Old Testament Church. It was a painful, bloody process, and as such it was the beginning of that life of suffering upon which God's Son had determined to enter in the interests of men. There are not the same details about this circumcision that there were about John's. The outstanding fact was that he received the name Jesus, indicating that he was to be the Savior of mankind. Into the Jewish covenant, consequently, there has entered by this circumcision a Savior, One destined, like his namesake Joshua, to lead the Lord's people out of all bondage into glorious liberty. This was a practical identification of him with the people of God, before he could, at least humanly, decide for himself. And there is nothing better for little children than to be thus early associated with the cause of God.

II. THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE. (Vers. 22-24.) The circumcision constituted Jesus a member of the old covenant, but his presentation in the temple was his formal dedication to the service of the Lord. The mother was directed, at the end of forty days from the child's birth, to appear before the Lord with two offerings - one for a sin offering, the other for a burnt offering. In Mary's case, because of her poverty, the offerings consisted of two doves or two young pigeons The one sacrifice expressed a sense of sin, the other a sense of consecration, both beautiful in the mother of our Lord. The first was entirely out of place it' she was "immaculate," as some represent her. In addition there would be paid for Jesus the redemption price of five shekels, that he might be excused from temple service, and might dedicate himself to the Lord in another capacity. When we consider all his Messiahship meant, it was really a payment that he might have the privilege of serving the Father as the Fulfiller of the ritual, and thus as the Abolisher of the ritualism of the temple. It would have altogether confused matters if he had undertaken any service about the temple as the Levites and priests did, a word, the Messiah could not well have come, like the Baptist, from the tribe of Levi; but it was better he should belong to one which was not bound to the altar. And here we must notice as a practical point that the claim made on the firstborn by the Lord as being his peculiar possession, is a claim which we should all recognize as just. We are not our own, but bought with a price, and so bound to glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). This Jesus alone realized in fullness, but we ought to try to realize it in increasing measure.

III. THE TESTIMONY OF SIMEON. (Vers. 25 - 35.) While Jesus was being presented, an aged believer called Simeon comes, Spirit-impelled, into the temple. His character is clearly sketched for us. He was

(1) just and devout;

(2) waiting hopefully for the advent of him who was to be Israel's Consolation;

(3) the subject of special revelation about seeing Messiah before death. And now he comes into the temple to recognize intuitively the Messiah in Mary's little Child. The result is his appropriation of the Child for an instant, that he might fondle him in his breast. Then does he pour forth his swan-song, the "Nunc Dimittis," which has been such a pathetic word in the experience of the Church. This prayer of Simeon suggests such thoughts as these:

1. A peaceful departure is not only possible, but most desirable. Manifestly Simeon could go to his last sleep as quietly as to his nightly rest. We may commit not only the folded hours of the night to God, but also the folded hours of eternity.

2. The preliminary of such a departure is the sight of the Savior. The Child Jesus was the Divine Savior provided for the aged Simeon, and in his tender care we may also rest.

3. The peculiar joy of salvation is that it is intended for all people, Gentile as well as Jew. After all the talk about selfishness, there is no system which embraces all the world as Christianity does. But after thus speaking gratefully to God, Simeon speaks sympathetically to the wondering Joseph and Mary. He gives them an old man's benediction. They had a mighty charge and needed great grace to fulfill it. And then he speaks special words of warning as well as of encouragement to Mary about the Child. And here we notice:

(1) That the fate of multitudes often hangs on the destiny of an individual. So was it with the Child Jesus.

(2) His fate will be one of determined opposition even unto death.

(3) It will involve Mary in desperate distress; but

(4) by the tragedy many hearts shall be revealed. The crucifixion of Jesus is the touchstone by which our spiritual condition may be best determined. According as we are attached to or repelled by a crucified Savior must be our spiritual or carnal state.

IV. THE TESTIMONY OF ANNA. (Vers. 36-38.) Anna was another respired person waiting for the advent of Messiah. An aged widow, she seems never to have left the temple, and to have risen as near the ideal of ceaseless service as one in this life could. She also gave thanks to God as with eager eye she gazed upon her Redeemer in the Person of the holy Child. And to all who, like herself, were looking for redemption, she spoke of Jesus as the Redeemer promised and now given. There is not the same melancholy tone about Anna as about Simeon. She speaks about redemption, and will wait for it, while Simeon seems inclined to reach it as speedily as possible by death (cf. Godet, in loc.).

V. THE EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF JESUS. (Vers. 39, 40.) Its sphere was Nazareth; not the place human wisdom would have selected for a holy development. A sinless life there was the greatest of all miracles. And here we are told of:

1. His development in physical strength. "The Child grew." If the Savior had never been a child, but always full-grown like our first parent, he would not have commanded so much sympathy in the world. Little children take delight in the thought of him who was once like them a little child.

2. His development in spirit and in wisdom. The reference seems to be to energy of will and to intuitive insight, and the reflective form of the verbs seems to attribute the progress to his own effort. That is to say, his will grew in force while his soul grew in insight. As a Boy he lacked no decision of character and his insight was remarkable for one of his years.

3. He became, consequently, the Object of Divine grace. This favor of the Father was his by right. He won his way to it, and it could not have been justly denied him. The human race was no longer in the Father's sight utterly depraved. A redeeming feature had appeared in the person of the holy Child Jesus in Nazareth. God's attitude towards the world was thereby altered, and justly so. There are persons who give a halo of holy attraction to the sphere in which they live. Nazareth became redeemed from universal suspicion because of one little Child who was living there. It is for us to rejoice in such a Savior as we have in Jesus, One who passed through the stages which we individually experience, and was sinless in them all. Childhood attains new interest for us, and its innocency was once a perfect reality as the little feet of the Lord of life and glory trod the streets of Nazareth. - R.M.E.







For the circumcising of the Child.
The teaching of Jewish circumcision resembles the teaching of Christian baptism. Both exhibit the putting away of the filth of the flesh; the first by a wounding of the body (which aptly recalls the severity of the elder dispensation); the second by an outward washing. This, which may be called the practical bearing of the present festival (Circumcision of Christ, 1st January), is brought out in the collect for the day, wherein we beseech God to grant us "the true circumcision of the spirit." And it is worth observing that this was seen, from the very first, to be the mystical teaching of the rite. Thus Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy (which abounds in the loftier class of doctrine), speaks plainly (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6) of circumcising the heart; and the prophets (Jeremiah 4:4) use the same expression. St. Stephen's language, when he addressed his countrymen for the last time ("Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears," Acts 7:51), seems to show that this continued throughout the whole history of the Jewish people to be the well-understood meaning of the rite; while St. Paul's witness on the point (Romans 2:28, 29) is express. It is interesting to observe how closely this observance was connected with holy baptism, besides being typical of the Christian sacrament, and, indeed, a kind of anticipation of it: a rite performed in infancy, and made the occasion of bestowing a new name.

(Dean Burgon.)

Circumcision was the seal of the gospel covenant made by God with Abraham (Genesis 17:2, 4, 9); which the law, added — as the apostle teaches (Galatians 3:17) — four hundred and thirty years after, could not disannul. This was a covenant of faith, quite distinct from the covenant of works (Exodus 24:8) made through Moses; it was an evangelical, not a legal, covenant. And it foreshadowed what was to be in the latter days, though the people knew it not, would not know it. They relied on being naturally descended from Abraham, and gave no heed to our Saviour's declaration that, if they were indeed Abraham's children, they would do the works of Abraham (John 8:39); in other words, that God's promise to the patriarch's seed was a spiritual promise, fulfilled to as many as showed the like faith with himself (Galatians 3:7, 29). While, therefore, our Saviour's submission to be circumcised — whereby, in one respect, He fulfilled all righteousness — conveys an obvious lesson of obedience, and conformity to the laws of the Church, to which we belong; the gospel fulfilment which Christ gave to that sacred rite, and to the covenant with Abraham of which it was the seal and pledge, brings to mind the high spiritual teaching of all His other ancient laws, the design of which was to guide man's heart to the future Messiah. God's ancient law was spiritual throughout; no dead letter, but a living reality, trying the very heart and reins.

(Dean Burgon.)

There is no part of our Saviour's life uninteresting, or that will not yield instruction. We ask, then, why did He submit to circumcision?

1. Christ was circumcised in order to fulfil the law. By His perfect obedience to all its precepts, He abolished its force and condemning power over every transgression. For us He was circumcised and baptized; for us He exhibited entire legal obedience, that He might bring us under the tender, merciful, encouraging covenant of the gospel, by "fulfilling all righteousness."

2. Christ's circumcision was necessary to obtain for Him a hearing among His own people. The Jews looked upon every uncircumcised person as unclean. Christ could have had no access to them without submitting to this ceremony. To manifest Himself of the seed of Abraham, to satisfy in this respect the requisitions of His nation, to substantiate His pretentions to be their Messiah, and deprive them of what would have been an unanswerable plea for rejecting Him, He graciously condescended to endure this painful rite. What an example has He set us of the excellency of submitting to privations and pains in advancing the happiness of our fellow-beings! Did Jesus bear the marks of an humbling rite in His own precious body, that His own people, when He came to them, might not be offended in Him; and shall not we yield to all innocent compliances with the habits and feelings of others, which may facilitate our usefulness to them, and bear with contentment the labours and crosses, self-denials, expenses, and cares, which may be necessary in promoting their salvation or happiness?

3. The institution of this ceremony, and Christ's compliance with it, suggests to us the propriety and efficacy of visible rites and sacraments. Here was a seal of a covenant established by God. It was to be a token for distinguishing the faithful, a sign of cleansing from pollution, and an assurance of blessing from Jehovah. Without some visible rite it is hardly conceivable how this or any Church could be preserved distinct. Some sacrament is necessary, and, if necessary, obligatory upon every one who would support the Church, for which it is hallowed, and enjoy all its privileges. Accordingly, all systems of religion have had their rites, mysteries, symbols. What circumcision was to the Jews, baptism is to Christians. Both of Divine appointment, significant of incorporation into the Church of God, requiring faith, representing purification from the defilements of sin, and implying consequent self-denial, holiness, obedience.

4. In the circumcision of Christ we are strikingly taught the propriety of submitting to all the precepts and institutions of the revelation under which we live. Christ was made under the law, consequently the law had authority over Him. With singular truth, He might have asked, "Can I be benefited by this rite, and by these simple ceremonies?" With peculiar force He might have inquired, "What connection can there be between these outward forms and My spirit; what efficacy can they have upon My heart?" With more propriety than any mortal He might have said, "I can be safe and perfect without all these." But he did not stop to scruple their utility; He did not find fault with their nature. They were ordained by the Being who established the law under which He lived. This was sufficient for Him. And so throughout His life. He kept the passover; He observed the Sabbath; He went up to the feasts; He neglected no precept of the revelation which He knew came from God, and was authoritative till superseded by His new and better dispensation. In this conduct of His life our Saviour has set an example, excellent in itself, and fit for His disciples to revere. It points to us the necessity of obeying every precept, and observing every rite to which the gospel gives the seal of Divine authority. To neglect baptism or holy communion because, as men think, they may be as good and as safe without them, or because they cannot see their efficacy, is taking a ground which the all-perfect Son of God was too modest to assume. Whether men may be saved without these means, how they effect what is attributed to them, whether they are the best which might have been selected, are points with which we have nothing to do. The questions which concern us are, Whether Christ instituted baptism and the eucharist; and, if He did, whether His injunctions are binding upon us or not? On this plain ground every man may easily form a just determination concerning the propriety of observing all the precepts and institutions of the revelation under which he lives. His observance of them should be a simple act of faith and obedience, by which he should testify both to God and men.

(Bishop Dehon.)

Thus early did Jesus suffer pain for our sakes, to teach us the spiritual circumcision, the circumcision of all our bodily senses. As the east catches at sunset the colours of the west, so Bethlehem is a prelude to Calvary, and even the Infant's cradle is tinged with a crimson reflection from the Redeemer's cross.

(Archdeacon Farrar.)

(First Sunday after Christmas.)

I. THE RITE OF CIRCUMCISION WHICH, AS ON THIS DAY, WAS ADMINISTERED TO THE INFANT JESUS HAD A TWOFOLD SIGNIFICANCE.

1. Its existence was a testimony that mankind is fallen and needs purification.

2. Circumcision was not only an act of humility, it was also an act of obedience to the law of God.

II. THE CIRCUMCISION OF JESUS THUS REVEALS TO US THE FOUNDATIONS ON WHICH HIS HUMAN LIFE WAS BUILT, VIZ., HUMILITY AND OBEDIENCE. Can there be truer foundations for any human life than these? Is it not the very ideal of Christian childhood? Humility, which is the expression of our own insufficiency; obedience, which is the recognition of our dependence upon God.

III. It has been well pointed out by many devout Christian thinkers that THE HUMAN LIFE WHICH THE SON OF GOD LIVED IN THE FLESH IS THE VERY SAME AS THE LIFE WHICH HE LIVES IN US; it is produced in the same manner, and progresses according to the same law. After His spiritual birth in us comes our spiritual circumcision (Colossians 2:11). As this life grows within us, we shall find that it has also its epiphany, its baptism, its temptation, its active ministry, its passion, its cross, its resurrection. Enough for us to-day to consider its circumcision. Not without reason do we pray in the Litany, "By Thy holy nativity and circumcision, good Lord deliver us."

IV. The circumcision was distinguished from all other acts of our Lord's humiliation IN THAT IT WAS WITHOUT ANY COMPENSATING GLORY, and was accepted by Him without any protest from God or man, declaring that He needed it not for His own sake. Yet there was even in His circumcision a glory bestowed upon Him which men could not at the time recognize, but which has proved to be the greatest of all the honours of His incarnate life. IT WAS THEN THAT THERE WAS BESTOWED UPON HIM THE NAME OF JESUS, God our Saviour. The name thus given Him in His humiliation has become the name in which He has triumphed over His enemies, the name which has been blessed by millions of penitent sinners, and adored in rapture by ten thousands of His saints.

V. Trembling, anxiously, WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD INTO THE UNCERTAINTY OF A NEW YEAR. If we begin the year in the spirit of Him who began His earthly life in humility and obedience, we may know that, however galling to our natural unrenewed will may be the humility which alone becomes us, however difficult may be the obedience which God demands from us, there is yet to be manifested a glory that exalteth, in comparison with which the trials of this present life are but as nothing.

(Canon V. Hutton, M. A.)

The year begins with Thee,

And Thou beginn'st with woe,

To let the world of sinners see

That blood for sin must flow.

Thine Infant cries, O Lord,

Thy tears upon the breast,

Are not enough — the legal sword

Must do its stern behest.

Like sacrificial wine

Poured on a victim's head

Are these few precious drops of Thin,,

Now first to offering led.

They are the pledge and seal

Of Christ's unswerving faith

Given to His Sire, our souls to heal,

Although it costs His death.

I. FOR THE CHURCH AND FOR THE HOME.

II. FOR JOY AND FOR SORROW.

III. FOR LIFE AND FOR DEATH.

(Dr. Gerok.)

Boys were circumcised eight days after their birth. Tradition said that this day was chosen because the mother ceased to be unclean on the seventh day if she had borne a boy. He who circumcised the child used the following words: "Blessed be the Lord our God, who has sanctified as by His precepts, and given us circumcision." The father of the child continued: "Who has sanctified us by His precepts, and has granted us to introduce our child into the covenant of Abraham our father." The child was named the same day, because it was said that God changed the names of Abraham and Sarah when He gave the covenant of circumcision.

(E. Stapler, D. D.)

1. It signifies purification. Christ committed no sin, but stood for sinful man.

2. It signified obedience (Genesis 17:12). He was "made under the law" (Galatians 4:4).

3. It signified consecration. This ordinance was part of the covenant between God and the Jewish nation, whereby they were to be counted "a peculiar treasure" unto God "above all people" (Exodus 19:5).

(D. Hughes, M. A.)

I. CIRCUMCISION WAS A RITE WHICH TOLD OF A MISIMPROVED PAST. The first account of it occurs in the history of Abraham, in whose case Paul says it was given as a sign and seal of the righteousness which is obtained by faith (Romans 4:11). The state of uncircumcision was thus a state of unrighteousness. Paul also tells the Colossians, that they had been dead in their sins and the uncircumcision of their flesh (Colossians 2:13). Circumcision, therefore, carried with it the remembrance and acknowledgment of a bad and unsatisfactory past. It told of alienation from God, and of faithlessnesses and infidelities. It carried with it a retrospect of failure and sin. Even the circumcision of "the holy child Jesus," was an acknowledgment of the fallen condition of the race, with which he identified Himself, in its humiliation, that He might become its perfect Saviour.

II. CIRCUMCISION WAS A SIGN OF THE CUTTING OFF AND CASTING AWAY OF SIN. The fleshly incision was a token of a spiritual one, which consisted in separation from moral impurity and evil (Romans 2:29).

III. BUT CIRCUMCISION SET APART TO OBEDIENCE, AS WELL AS SEVERED FROM IMPURITY. It was the ceremony of initiation into the covenant, and pledged the subject to obey it. It was part of the redemption-work of Christ to obey the law.

IV. CIRCUMCISION CONFERRED AND FIXED ON CHRIST HIS TRUE DESCRIPTIVE NAME.

V. But, for the encouragement of those who feel their deficiencies and miseries, there is still one other particular connected with the text. HE WHOM GOD HATH APPOINTED TO BE OUR JUDGE, TOOK THE NAME OF JESUS. He is a Saviour, and a great one. Hopefully His circumcision day so proclaims Him to us. Yea, saith the apostle, "He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him" (Hebrews 7:25).

(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

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