We’re still in the Christmas season, and today, January 1st, is the Octave, or 8th day of Christmas. And while the world around us generally considers Christmas now to be officially over, and puts the Christmas trees out on the curb for trash, we Christians are still keeping the Christmas season, which is a full 12 days, beginning on Christmas Day and ending on the feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6th.
Today is the eighth day of Christmas, and as we heard in our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth.
As traditional Anglicans using the classical Book of Common Prayer, we’re among the few communities in the Christian world today who keep January 1st as the Circumcision of Christ. In many modern Anglican churches this day is kept as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, or the 1st Sunday of Christmas, while in the Roman Catholic Church it’s kept as the Solemnity of Mary.
But I think it’s important to keep this feast of the Circumcision of Christ because it reminds us of the Jewish identity and heritage of Jesus. And it therefore reminds us as Christians of our roots in the Jewish faith of the Old Testament.
In our Gospel reading for today we heard that it was on this day, eight days after his birth, that Jesus was brought to the temple by Mary and Joseph to be circumcised. And this was done in accordance with the law of Moses, which states that every Jewish male must be circumcised on the eighth day following his birth.
Mary and Joseph were obedient parents to the law of Moses, and we learn from the Collect for today that Jesus was made obedient to the law for our sake, for the sake of mankind. The circumcision of a Jewish male baby signified that the child would grow up following the law and living in obedience to it. Now, we know from reading the Old Testament that the ancient Israelites did not always live in obedience to the law. In fact they were often quite disobedient. As St. Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans, no human being has ever managed to keep the law in its entirety. Because to keep the law in its entirety means not only to obey the 10 Commandments in our outward actions and behavior, but also, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, to keep the Commandments in our inward thoughts, feelings, and desires as well. Who among us has not broken the Commandments through anger, lust, jealousy, the desire for revenge, and so on?
The circumcision of Jesus was the initial showing of how that he was going to be obedient to the law and perfectly obedient to the Father and live a life of sinless perfection. It was at this time of his circumcision that he was given the name Jesus. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, and it means “the LORD (Yahweh) saves.” Names were very important in the ancient Hebrew tradition because they were thought to embody the very essence of a person and the entirety of that person’s being. The entirety of this man Jesus’ life was to be God saves.
We do a similar thing in the Christian sacrament of baptism. Just before baptizing the child or person, the priest says, “Name this child” (or “Name this person”). So once again we can see that as Christians we have a direct connection with the Hebrew tradition. Baptism is the Christian equivalent of circumcision. It is through baptism that we are brought into the covenant, the new covenant in Jesus’ blood. Just as it was through circumcision that the Jewish male was signified as being brought into the old covenant.
What does it mean for us to be obedient to God? We don’t much like the word obedience today, but it simply means to listen to God and to follow what he asks us to do.
Today is New Year’s Day, and so what resolutions, if any, have you made for the new year? What do you want to accomplish in the year A.D. 2017? What goals do you want to accomplish for yourself? What new habits do you want to practice? What bad habits do you want to put aside? What things do you want to do for God in 2017?
Just as Jesus was marked for God as a member of the old covenant community by circumcision, so we Christians are marked for God and as members of the new covenant community, the Church, by baptism. One of the things we want to have as a resolution is to grow in grace, to grow in sanctification, in the coming year We want to grow in our relationship with God. We don’t want to stagnate in our relationship with God. We’ve been given the opportunity for more life, and so we want to use that opportunity well.
In addition to thinking about how can I grow in my relationship with God in 2017, we also want to be thinking about what can I do to advance the kingdom of God; that is the reign, the presence, and the will of God on earth? What things can I do to assist God in ushering in his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? What can I do as a coworker with God in bringing about his kingdom, his reign, his presence, and the awareness of him in my community and my job and my relationships and my family? What are some of the things that I can focus on to bring God’s rule, God’s control, God’s presence, and God’s intervention into each situation and relationship and community? What things can I do to help further God’s kingdom in 2017?
Maybe it would be a good idea to write down the things you would like to accomplish for God in 2017. We human beings are always struggling against forgetfulness, laziness, and apathy, and so we need to have some way to go back and remind ourselves of our resolutions and goals. As Christians we are people of remembrance. We are people who remember God and who remember what God has done for us. We are continually reminding ourselves and living in remembrance of him. And so if we write these things down, we can go back and reflect on them during our prayer time.
May God grant us the true circumcision of the heart and of the spirit so that in this year of grace we can grow in our relationship with him, help to expand his kingdom, and live in obedience to him.