Preached on Genesis 21:1-7 yesterday regarding the birth of Isaac. The joyous arrival of Isaac, whose very name means "laughter," to Abraham and Sarah after all those years of waiting and all the factors surrounding it invites us to think of the coming of the true seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
Yet the way the story is written makes this event central to Isaac's coming:
"Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him."
Why does God highlight a circumcision, and what was the significance of it being done on the eighth day? You may not realize this, but you actually will be celebrating the true significance of this act two weeks from today. What do I mean?
Well, first read this from the Wikipedia Encyclopedia:
"Most countries in Western Europe officially adopted January 1 as New Year's Day somewhat before they adopted the Gregorian calendar...This is sometimes called Circumcision Style, because this was the date of the Feast of the Circumcision, being the eighth day counting from 25 December."
Having the beginning of the year happen exactly one week after Christmas (eight days in the way the Jews counted it - Sunday to Sunday was eight days for they counted the first Sunday) is not just a coincidence but a deliberate setting of the time to correspond to Jesus' circumcision which also happened eight days after his birth. Listen to a Lutheran pastor explain this further:
"Many people, Christian or not, use the western calendar’s New Year’s Day on 1 January as a time of taking stock, evaluating decisions, and making resolutions. It’s also the Church feast day commemorating the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. Some churches celebrate one or the other of these events, some both, and some neither....(Why?) '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)' Once the Christian Church established a date for Christmas, the commemoration of His circumcision was set for one week later."
Yet why would the church want to celebrate Christ's circumcision of all things? Wikipedia continues, "...It is a feast celebrating not only Christ consenting to submit to Jewish Law, but also the first time the Redeemer spilled his blood for mankind."
Then why was circumcision done on the eighth day? Some of the early church fathers perhaps understood these things better than we:
"The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth..." –Justin Martyr
"For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us." –Cyprian
Jesus arose on the first day of the week, also called the eighth day by the Jews (see John 20:26). He was the true circumcision, having taken away our sin and filth by His death and burial and giving us new life through His resurrection. All those circumcisions on the eighth day of Jewish boys from Isaac to Jesus through the ages were a bloody testimony to that which has now come. And the very calendar we use was set to start off each year by reminding us of this gospel truth.
So as you wish someone Happy New Year in these next few weeks, why not also say, "By the way, did you know....?"