Happy New Year!
Although the lesson from today’s daily lectionary is taken from Ephesians 2:11-22, since today is the celebration of the Circumcision of Christ, I’m choosing to write about the lesson related to that event, which we celebrate on January 1. There is one, unobtrusive verse in the Gospels that most of us skip over each year. It’s tucked away right after the justly famous Christmas passage in St. Luke’s Gospel. But after the angels had sung and announced, after the shepherds had watched their flock by night, had come to the Lamb of God, and had gone home, Jesus was circumcised.
Luke 2:21: “And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.”
Why would St. Luke bother to record this? Why should it concern us? And why would the Church see fit to set aside one day a year to commemorate one verse in the Bible? There is good reason, but I suppose that if an entire book can be written about the obscure Prayer of Jabez, an obscure Old Testament figure, then I suppose we can dwell a little on an important event in the life of the Christ Himself.
To begin with, consider what care God the Father took in bringing the Son to us. He not only made Him like one of us but also had Him undergo the same kind of life that any first century Jew might. The point is that He was made like us in all things that He might redeem all things in us. Jesus, the Righteous One, had to be circumcised so that He could perfectly keep the Law on our behalf. And I find that meaningful.
It was at His circumcision that Jesus was given His name. Jesus had to grow into the name that He was given and into His earthly ministry, one day at a time. This astounds me, because it reminds me of how truly human Jesus was and how things didn’t just happen automatically for Him.
Because Jesus did in fact grow up to be the Christ and actually did redeem us, the sovereignty of God is shown. Despite Herod’s attempts to kill Him, and despite all other possible obstacles, God the Father preserved the Son. He knew exactly what He needed to do, and He made it happen. So sure was God of His promises and His will that He even gave Jesus His name before He was conceived in the womb. In fact, He had been prophesied about hundreds of years before His birth.
And what a name! Jesus. The Lord Shall Save!
And He did.
But the meaning of Christ’s circumcision goes beyond this. Why would God institute such a barbaric ritual in the first place as a sign of the covenant? The symbolism of circumcision is rich, and I can’t do justice to it here, but it represents the blood sacrifice and covenant that God has made with man. It represents the cutting away of sinful things and the removal of the things of the flesh that obscures life, so that the clean flesh might live and give life.
Circumcision is, therefore, a miniature picture of the work of Jesus Christ. How fitting that He should undergo it for us.
At one time, you and I were, to put it crassly, the foreskin. We were cut off from God and fit only to be thrown away. Because of our sinfulness, God had to surgically remove us from His holy presence. By the blood of Christ, pictured in miniature in His circumcision, we were brought near to Him from whom we are worthy only to be circumcised or cut off.
By this simple act of keeping the Law, by this simple act of keeping God’s covenant with man, Jesus Christ shows us once again that He is the New Covenant. He is the only means to God. Only through Him can we love and obey the Father.
Why eight days? Of course I could give the easy answer and say because the Law required it. But why eight days to begin with? The eighth day is also the first day, and by Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day, God is telling us that He is beginning His New Creation and His New Covenant through this eight-day old baby. In a way, the Second Adam was born on the first day but reborn on the eighth to show us that through Him we must also enter the second birth.
And all this from an eight-day old infant!
It’s humbling to me that God can use even an eight-day old to do His holy will. By it, I know as well not only the incredible power of God but also the loving character of a God who would stoop and use a human infant to glorify Him.
It reminds me that He can even use a 48-year old man as well!
Maybe this theme of God’s bringing new life and birth through a New Covenant is why we celebrate the Circumcision of Christ on New Year’s Day.
As we continue to contemplate the new life God has given us in His Son, who was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth, how appropriate for us to consider how God wants us to live the New Year with Him.
Prayer: Almighty God, who made Your blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey Your blessed will; through the same, Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. In this New Year, what sins do you need be have removed from you? Confess each and receive forgiveness through the One who is the true Circumcision.
2. Meditate on the care with which God has brought salvation into your life.
3. Meditate on 3 practical steps you can take to more fully enter into the new life in Christ this year. It will be useful to consider some of the Resolutions you have made previously as you’ve read the Scriptures through Give Us This Day.
Resolution: I resolve to meditate on the new life that God has given me and how I should respond anew this new year.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson