What if someone asked you the question: “What makes Lutheran worship Lutheran?” If you were going to describe or define Lutheran worship, what would you say? What makes it unique or different from worship as you might experience it or participate in it in any given church across the country or around the world? Is it just that Lutherans do “Catholic-lite”? Is it that Lutherans have a particular order to services, or that we have prescribed readings and written prayers? Is it that we haven’t quite shaken the ghosts of our Germanic ancestors?
As we enter a new calendar year, we have already been in the Church calendar for a month or so, which helps us to think along the lines of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us, rather than allowing this world’s concerns to form our thinking. The first day of 2017 (as with the first day of every year) reminds us of another new beginning: Jesus’ entry into the covenant of circumcision that God had established with Abraham. But, because Jesus is both God and Man, He does not only enter the covenant as just one more Israelite, but as the Israelite, the fulfiller of the covenant promises to Abraham. Because Jesus was circumcised, because He full-filled the covenant, and because in our baptism we are clothed with Christ, we no longer need to be circumcised to enter into God’s covenant with all people. Just as He died once for all, so He was circumcised once for all. With that circumcision, He already hinted at what was to come with the shedding of His infant blood. Because He was “cut,” we who are in Him will never be “cut off” from God’s covenant. (That was part of the meaning for the circumcised people of God in the Old Testament: if their males were not circumcised, they would be cut off from the people of God.) But the Church celebrates January 1 for another reason: the eighth day after birth was also the day of naming for Jewish babies. So Jesus was given the Name which the angel had told Mary, Yahshua: “Yah(weh) saves;” because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21; cf. Luke 1:31).