The Circumcision and Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am going to cheat a bit this morning, with a mostly pure heart and noble intent, mind you, but I’m going to cheat nonetheless. It’s all because ADOTS offers Morning Prayer online, but not Evening Prayer. Today is the beginning of a new calendar year, and the lectionary for Morning Prayer is spot on. What better way to mark the beginning of the year than with both the Old and New Testament creation stories: “In the beginning,” both Moses and John write — sublime words that, in every sense, transcend time and pierce the hearts of each successive generation. I had the great privilege of preaching from this Prologue to the Gospel of St. John on the first Sunday of Christmas. It was tempting to do so again today, but something else captured my attention instead.
This day we also observe a holy day in the church: The Circumcision and Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this has led me to cheat this morning. It is a reading from Evening Prayer that reflects this holy day, and it is on that theme I wish to reflect. So, hopefully with your forgiveness, I read from Evening Prayer, from the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. Luke, beginning with the second chapter, the eighth verse.
Luke 2:8–21 (ESV): 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The incarnation of the Lord — announced by an angel to a terrified band of shepherds — marked him out as the flesh-bearing son of Adam, a man subject to sin, though not guilty of it, in solidarity with all men. The circumcision of the Lord — on the eighth day according to the Law — marked him out, in the flesh of his incarnation — as the covenant-bearing son of Abraham, subject to the Law. though not guilty of it, in solidarity with all Israel. These two events, incarnation and circumcision, locate Jesus in a particular story: in the Story of God’s redemptive purpose for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve through this one, particular son of Abraham, through this one and only-begotten Son of God. We cannot remove Jesus from the story to create an abstract Christ, some gnostic redemptive power or principle. No, the incarnation and the circumcision will not allow that. They root us in the story of Israel — the story of Israel for the world. It is your story, and mine.
St. Paul weaves these two Christological themes — incarnation and circumcision — together with yet a third theme, baptism, which locates us in the same story:
Colossians 2:8–15 (ESV): 9 For in him [in Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Our baptism — a spiritual circumcision which removes not a small piece of skin but the entire body of flesh and sin — marks us as the Spirit-bearing sons and daughters of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in solidarity with the incarnation, circumcision, life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord. In the Anglican Rite of Holy Baptism, the bishop or priest presiding may place a hand on the head of the newly baptized saint, mark on his or her forehead the sign of cross with Holy Chrism, call the new child of God by name and say: You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. Amen (BCP 2019, p. 169). As Jesus was marked in his flesh as a son of Abraham, we are marked in body and spirit as sons and daughters of God in our baptism. We enter and take our part in the ancient story, in solidarity with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Orthodox brothers and sisters sing this Troparion of the Circumcision of the Lord:
Enthroned on high with the Eternal Father and Your divine Spirit, O Jesus, You willed to be born on earth of the unwedded handmaiden, your Mother.
Therefore You were circumcised as an eight-day old Child.
Glory to Your most gracious counsel;
glory to Your dispensation;
glory to Your condescension, O lonely Lover of mankind.
And on that eighth day, when the son of Mary and Son of God was circumcised, he was also named in accordance with the word spoken by the angel:
Matthew 1:20–25 (ESV): 20 But as [Joseph] considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Jesus, Savior, Immanuel, God with us: The Circumcision and Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The circumcision locates Jesus in a story, in the redemptive story of God through Israel for the world. In our baptism, it becomes our story, too. The naming of Jesus proclaims that name at which every knee will bow and which every tongue will confess — Jesus is Lord! — to the glory of God the Father. Amen.