Sunday, January 1st, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 2:15-21
“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
Until recent times, the English Church has traditionally kept this day as the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord. The old 1662 Book of Common Prayer made provision for a celebration of the Holy Name to be kept on August 7. However, when we read Luke 2:21, we realize that the circumcision and naming of Jesus are one single event and therefore, we should celebrate them together. To add a third strand to this festival day is that in modern times, January 1st has been kept as the beginning of a civic new year. And perhaps, this is the first and best place to begin.
New Year’s Day is a fresh start for us. The day is filled with resolutions about whom we shall become in the upcoming year, with goals of what we wish to achieve, and hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow. It is a time to repent of all the things we have done that we ought not to have done, and all the things we have not done that we ought to have done. It is a new beginning, a clean slate, a fresh start. Thus, it is inescapable that we should continue to celebrate the mystery of Christmas this week (remember indeed, that Christmas is Twelve Days, starting with Christmas day itself, making this Day 8). The mystery of Christmas is that in Jesus Christ God has given us a new beginning, a fresh start. The words of the Book of Revelation, “Behold I am making all things new” apply not only to the New Jerusalem that is to come, but the new reality we experience as God comes among us at Christmas in the person of Jesus Christ our Saviour. The great mystery of Christmas, that God is making all things new in Christ, is also the promise of hope that is ever before us. The gift of Jesus is a gift of new life for us. As St. Paul says in Galatians 4, we are no longer slaves but children through adoption. Consider the metaphor. In the ancient world (and in many places today) the child without parents is given over to the elements, to poverty and very soon, to death – a fate even worse than slavery. For one without parents there is no hope; but through brotherhood with Christ, God becomes our loving parent. And thus we are not, and never shall again be, alone. Where in our past we had only despair, in our present and our future we are filled with hope and joy because we have God as both our loving father and mother.
But as much as this day is about new beginnings, we are also reminded that we a part of a larger story – the divine disclosure of God to us through the ages. We are not entirely divorced from our past, and indeed, when we are in Christ we are able to look back at our history and see the hand of God that has directed us to this very moment. In a past we once thought was hopeless, the Spirit of God which is with us from our birth has been moving within and about us. In those times we could not discern its presence or its work, but from the vantage point of our redemption in Christ we can see the Spirit’s work everywhere in our history. The Circumcision of Jesus points directly to this reality. As God entered into humanity he did so in the context of a humble family in first-century Judea. This humble family, this Holy Family, did all the things required of them by the Law of God. On the eighth day they took their babe to the Temple, the mother underwent her ritual purification, and the boy was circumcised and named. His life began in very obedience to the Law he himself was presently fulfilling. Aspects of that Law would no longer be considered binding to Christians in a very short time, and yet, in order to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus came into the world and began his life under that Holy Law. As St. Paul has written also in Galatians 4, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” Soon, the Early Church began to realize that the old Law, the former Covenant, had disclosed the New Covenant through signs and prophecies. The old prefigured the new. And in the circumcision of Jesus, old became new.
That great nineteenth-century bishop and biblical exegete, Charles Gore, in his commentary on St. Luke, wrote that our focus this day should not be so much on the rite of circumcision, though, but rather on the naming of Jesus. And thus we recall that Jesus is given the name prophesied by the angel Gabriel when he first came to Mary, “Greetings favoured one… and now you will conceive and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” We learn also from St. Matthew’s gospel that an angel had also prophesied this birth to Joseph, and told him that the child shall be named Jesus, “for he shall save his people.” The name of Jesus is thus significant to us, for the name itself is a testimony to our salvation. This salvation is not only for those born under the law, as St. Paul proclaims, it is for all people. Thus St. Paul was able to begin a remarkable mission to the gentiles, to those who had never even embraced the old law, because the New Covenant of grace is not simply for a single chosen people, but for all mankind.
Elsewhere, in Philippians 2:5-11, Paul writes about the divine movement of God in Christ and unfolds for us the mystery of salvation, that Christ Jesus who was in the form of God, chose not to cling to his divinity, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, even unto death. Thus God lifted him up and exalted him giving him the name that is above all names; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
And this is what we celebrate and proclaim this day, the name that is above every name. It is before this name that we bend the knee. It is upon hearing this holy name that we bow. The name of Jesus is for us a token and badge of our redemption. The very name means salvation. It is the very word of health and life for us. It is sweetness upon our lips and music to our ears. It is joy. It is hope. It is love; God’s unfathomable and endless love for us. Thus today, let us fulfill all righteousness and praise his Holy Name.
c. 2012, The Rev. Daniel F. Graves