Since today is New Year’s Day, you’ve probably already decided whether or not you were making any New Year’s resolutions. That you thought about it at all points to the powerful desire we fallen humans have for fresh starts and second chances. Nothing makes us feel more hopeful or optimistic than the opportunity to take a mulligan in the new year.
January 1st is also a new day in a different and more profound way: it’s the eighth day of Christmas and the commemorative festival day of the naming and circumcision of Jesus. As is usually the case with God, He uses something strange and earthly as a picture of His grace and mercy.
As is usually the case with God, He uses something strange and earthly as a picture of His grace and mercy.
The custom of circumcision began in Genesis. At age 90, God came to Abraham and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Gen. 17:1–2). This call to blamelessness was not a call to be self-righteous, but to return to the righteousness God counted to Abraham on account of Abraham’s faith in the promises God made to him.
Abraham and Sarah failed to trust God to deliver on His promises and took matters into their own hands. Their faithlessness brought only discord and disappointment. Yet God continued to call them back to His promises. God gave them a sign of the covenant He had made with them. This sign was cut into the flesh. It was permanent, irreversible, and it was for them and their children. “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations…” (Gen. 17:12). This sign would reflect the nature of God’s promise as an everlasting covenant. The sign could not be undone, just as God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah would not be undone.
Luke is the only Gospel writer to record Jesus’ circumcision and he does so with the utmost brevity. “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). Luke diligently includes two important details of this event. One, he alludes to what Matthew’s Gospel so clearly states: Jesus’ name prophesied His destiny. “For he will save will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Two, Jesus’ destiny is to die for us and to bring us into a new unending day.
Paul links circumcision to baptism. But Paul makes it clear that baptism does not replace circumcision as a new Law to fulfill. Instead, baptism supersedes circumcision as the new Gospel fulfilled for us. Paul writes, “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” (Col. 2:11–12). While circumcision was given to symbolize the removal of sin from the body; Christ came to bear our sins in His body that He might remove our sin for all eternity.
Circumcision incorporated one into the people of God and connect one’s identity to the God who rescued His people out of slavery in Egypt. Our baptism incorporates us into the family of God as sons and daughters of God and unites us to Jesus, His death, and His resurrection. Baptism brings us into that new unending day. A day where the devil’s lingering power is forever extinguished. A day where humanity dwells forever with God unimpeded by the remnants of sin. A day on which our God “will wipe away every tear from [the] eyes” of those who are in Christ, and where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
In Christ, every day is new year’s day because He died and was raised for you and for me in order to usher us into a day that has no end.
No longer do we need to climb the ladder of self-improvement to reach God. No longer do we need to try to be our best selves in order to appease Him. No longer do we need to try to pay for our mistakes in order to find His favor. In Christ, every day is new year’s day because He died and was raised for you and for me in order to usher us into a day that has no end. This day never ends because the benefits of baptism cannot be undone. Christ’s work for us cannot be un-finished. His death, resurrection, and righteousness are immutable. And, they are ours.