Not Above the Law
Text: Luke 2:21
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s a common feature in our books, movies, and TV shows to feature someone who doesn’t play by the rules but gets results. Whether it’s a vigilante superhero, or a couple who breaks all the rules to fall in love, or a brash doctor who’s sick of hospital protocol and successfully treats a patient who would have suffered under all those rules and regulations, our stories are full of these characters.
It makes for good entertainment, but when it comes to our walk with God, that kind of hero simply won’t do. Now that we’re in the Christmas season, our thoughts are given to how our God comes to be with us, not only to occupy the same space as us, but to truly be with us, to live alongside us and go through what we go through, to share our human nature and experiences in order to redeem us.
And while we could imagine a Savior who swoops in to save the day by breaking every rule and being above the Law, that wouldn’t really be the type of Savior we need. Because ultimately, our problem has been with God’s Law not being fulfilled. That’s been the source of all our trouble, all our sin, all the upside-down damage in the world, all the death and disease and misery and heartache—it’s because God’s Law hasn’t been fulfilled, His rules haven’t been followed.
Could you imagine a world in which all of God’s commandments are obeyed? It’s actually fairly difficult to picture a world with no lying, no physical harm done against anyone, no coveting, no theft. But what a world it would be. God does not give His Law lightly. It’s done to create an ordered universe where human life thrives under ideal conditions.
So when we think of what’s wrong with the world, we see that it’s because the Law has not been done. Instead, the worst of our fallen impulses will lure us away from the Law when it doesn’t seem easy or give us what we want immediately. The tempter will whisper that we could have a little more, or a lot more, if we just ignore that silly little rule God has given. The world offers us all sorts of prizes if we’re willing to sidestep what God has said would be good for us. And when that happens, only disaster strikes.
This is why we do not need a Savior who brushes off the Law of God. Instead, today, the 8th Day of Christmas and the celebration of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, we recognize our God who does play by the rules. On this day we see Him, as an infant, only 8 days old, as prescribed by the Law of God given at Mount Sinai, undergo the first of the Law’s requirements of a son of Abraham. The infant Jesus is circumcised and enters enter the covenant, from this time forward upholding His end of the agreement, to walk in the Law of the Lord and obey the commandments of God.
Of course, Jesus, as the Word made flesh, is more than familiar with these requirements and laws. He spoke them to Moses, after all. Before Abraham existed, this Son of God was. He gave the cosmos its order, He arranged its structure as the Wisdom of God. He has attached to the Law all the blessings that entice and the curses that threaten. But now, this Savior places Himself under the Law that He decreed. He now begins the first step of doing what mankind could not do. He enters the covenant of Abraham in order to hold up man’s end of the agreement. This day marks the beginning of His perfect fulfillment of the Law.
Jesus’ birth at Christmas means that He has taken our side. It also means that He has taken our place. Everything that we would not do, every commandment we wouldn’t keep, every statute we brushed aside, He will do for us. Everything that we could not do, because of our fallen human nature, because of our inward focus on ourselves and our likes and our wants, or because we simply didn’t know better, He will do all of that for us. He perfectly keeps the Law, every jot and tittle, in order to save us. He who spoke the Law, who by every right was above it as the perfectly free and perfectly powerful God, now places Himself under that same Law out of grace in order to keep it, to complete it, to satisfy its every demand in our place.
This is what St. Paul is getting at in our Epistle reading for this feast day: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ, you are all sons of God, through faith.”
The Law is a guardian, a tutor, something like an au pair. God’s Law protects us. It teaches us. It corrects us when we make mistakes. These are all the tasks of the Law. But it does not save us. That job is reserved for Jesus and Jesus alone. So when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son to be born of a woman, born under the Law, to be down here with all of us who are under the Law. And then, He perfectly fulfills it. He lifts us up with Him above the accusations of the Law. Its job is done. We’ve grown up into adulthood in Christ, now able to claim our inheritance as the children of God.
Now that’s not to say that we discard the Law now. We don’t throw out the Ten Commandments. Because we’ll always have this fallen nature on our heels, because we’ll always have the tempter and the world trying to get us off course, it’s important to let the Law do its job when its needed: to guide, to teach, to correct. But that’s all it can do now. Every other blessing comes from Jesus, who perfectly kept the Law in our place. He won every blessing promised by the Law. He absorbed every curse threatened by it. And it all began today, on the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.
Did you notice the connection between those two elements in our feast day’s title? They are connected; it’s not just happenstance. Jesus was given His name on the day He was circumcised, much like a child’s name is publicly pronounced at their baptism. And what is it that His name means? It’s as Gabriel told Joseph: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” The proclamation that He is the Savior who will redeem His people from under the accusation and imprisonment of the Law happens on the day that He places Himself under the Law in order to fulfill it.
So our Christmas celebration continues. God is truly with us. Jesus is truly one of us. He has come to do what we could not, to fulfill the Law, to redeem us from its accusations and curses, to walk alongside us in this covenant with God and complete what we are unable to do. He truly is God-with-us, our Redeemer, who has come to save us from our sins. In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh. Amen.