Feast of the Circumcision and Holy Name

The Circumcision and Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ
(Ex 34:1-9, Ps 8, Rom 1:1-7, Lk 2:15-21)

Luke 2:21 (ESV): 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.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A great novelist is writing a sweeping saga, a grand story spanning generations and geography, vast ranges of time and space. He knows the story from beginning to end, from “once upon a time” to “they lived happily ever after.” It is a good and very good story he has in mind. The author has created a cast of vividly written and uniquely realistic characters: so realistic that they seem to leap off the page, almost to have lives and wills of their own. And, in fact, they have come to do. The author has breathed so much of himself into these characters that astonishingly they have come to life. They begin to act independently of him, to say and do things he had never intended, to take the story in directions far from the good plot and climax he had in mind. They begin to do harm to themselves and others. The more the author tries to edit the pages, the more he writes them new and better sets of lines, the more he redirects the plot, the more the characters rebel and plunge headlong down a storyline of destruction. What is the author to do? Perhaps it is time to throw the manuscript into the fireplace, to consign it to dust and ashes and to start anew?

But, no: the author has another plan in mind — a daring, risky venture. The author decides to add another character to the cast. He decides to write himself into the story in a way never known before and never done since: as the perfect union of author and character. The author will live among his characters as one of them and re-write the narrative from inside the story. Of course, there is more than a little jeopardy in that bold move, given the wayward nature of the characters and the plot gone awry.

To become truly one of the characters, the novelist decides not to enter the story with great authorial power and glory, but instead to be born into the story meekly — to be born into obscurity in the story — and to grow up learning, from the inside, what it means to be a character: to live and love as a character, to rejoice and to suffer as a character. So, the author plots his own birth, with some strong hints placed in the story beforehand to point toward his identity. He grows up and lives in a messy family. He learns a trade and plies it for several years to support that messy family. One day, he lays aside the tools of his trade and “takes up his pen” to begin re-writing, redeeming the story. Yes, the author enters the story, but not generally, not generically. He enters the specific story of the specific characters he came to rescue.

The kingdom of God is like this. Oh, this parable falls apart if pushed too far, as all parables do, and it is certainly not right in all its details. But, in essence, it is true. It is the story of our first parents, Adam and Eve. It is the story of man, male and female, the story of all of us, neither you nor I excepted. It is the story of Israel: called and created, delivered, rebellious, exiled, waiting for the fulfillment of promises that seem hopelessly broken. And it is the story of Jesus, the Author-become-character, who enters the story, who places himself at the mercy of the twisted and broken characters who have “untold” their own story, deformed God’s own story — all to save them, to re-write and redeem the story, to bring it to its good and very good end.

Jesus entered the story of man at his incarnation, when, as St. John writes, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a, ESV). We celebrated that wonder a mere week ago, and we are celebrating it still throughout Christmastide; twelve days is not nearly enough, but it is what we are given. Today, eight days from the Feast of the Nativity, we celebrate Jesus’ entry into a particular story, not just the story of man, but the story of Israel.

Luke 2:21 (ESV): 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 marked Jesus out as the flesh-bearing son of Adam, a man subject to temptation, though not guilty of sin, a man in solidarity with all men. But the circumcision of the Lord — on the eighth day according to the Law — marked Jesus out, in the flesh of his incarnation — as the covenant-bearing son of Abraham, subject to the Law, though not guilty of it, a son of Abraham 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, through the one particular story of Israel. We cannot remove Jesus from that particular story to create an abstract Christ, some gnostic redemptive power, some generic spiritual principle or some good, moral teacher. No, the incarnation and the circumcision will not allow that. These two gritty, fleshly events root Jesus inextricably in the story of Israel — the story of Israel for the world. It is through Israel, through this one faithful son of Israel — Jesus, the Messiah — that the author will re-write the story of us all.

It is tempting to dismiss the circumcision of Jesus as a quaint Jewish practice and tale with no meaning for us, no application to us. We might even wonder why the Church still observes it as a holy day. But, we would dismiss it and remove it from our liturgical calendar only at great loss. While it is the story pertaining to Israel, a story of Jesus’ identification with Israel, it is also your story and mine, as St. Paul insists.

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul weaves these two Christological themes — incarnation and circumcision — together with yet a third theme, baptism. It is precisely our baptism that locates us in the same story; it is precisely our baptism that offers us a point of inclusion in the mysteries of incarnation and circumcision:

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. Jesus joined the story of man and the particular story of Israel in his incarnation and circumcision. We join the story of Jesus in our baptism.

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 the 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 by circumcision, we are marked on the body and in the 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.

Jesus assumed our flesh in the incarnation and became part of Israel’s story and vocation for the redemption of the world through his circumcision, so that in and through baptism we might bear the Spirit and become part of God’s story and vocation for the redemption of the world.

As wondrous as that is, it is only part of the story of this day.

Luke 2:21 (ESV): 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.

Jesus was not only circumcised on the eighth day; he was also named as the angel had instructed a very confused and disillusioned Joseph:

Matthew 1:20–25 (ESV): But as he 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: savior by virtue of being Immanuel, God with us, savior by virtue of being one of us — fully God and fully man. His name was not an arbitrary or meaningless label, not simply something for Mary to yell at the boy when she wanted him to come home for supper. His name was another identification with Israel’s story, a fulfillment of the heroic and faithful figure of Joshua whose name Jesus bore. Joshua led Israel into the land that was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham: a people and a land. Jesus would lead us all to the fulfillment of God’s greater promise to Abraham: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3b, ESV).

Jesus: there is mystery and power and glory and love and mercy in that name. All things in heaven and on earth find their origin and fulfillment in that name.

Luke 1:26–35 (ESV): 26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

“You shall call his name Jesus.” Jesus: Son of the Most High. Jesus: Son of David. Jesus: King of all ages.

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.

Jesus: Glory and good news of angels. Jesus: Joy of all people. Jesus: Wonder of shepherds. Jesus: Mystery and treasure of the human heart.

Luke 2:25–32 (ESV): 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Jesus: Salvation made manifest to all peoples. Jesus: Light of the Gentiles. Jesus: Glory of Israel. Jesus: Fulfillment of God’s word and climax of life.

Bartimaeus will not allow us to forget Jesus, hope and sight of the blind.

And the Geresene demoniac, now freed, clothed, and in his right mind would remind us of Jesus, terror of demons and deliverer of the oppressed.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus proclaim Jesus: Resurrection and Life, Conqueror of death.

Stephen, with his last breath would witness of Jesus, vision of heaven; Jesus, courage and strength of martyrs; Jesus fount of forgiveness to enemies.

Our every prayer proclaims Jesus’ name: Jesus, our only mediator and advocate. Jesus, our great high priest through whom we have access to his Father and our Father.

And so, we hymn the holy name of Jesus:

Jesus, God before the ages.
Jesus, King almighty.
Jesus, Master long-suffering.
Jesus, Saviour most merciful.
Jesus [my] Guardian most kind.
Jesus, invincible Power.
Jesus, unending Mercy.
Jesus, radiant Beauty.
Jesus, unspeakable Love.
Jesus, Creator of those on high.
Jesus, Redeemer of those below.
Jesus, Vanquisher of the nethermost powers.
Jesus, Adorner of every creature.
Jesus, Comforter of my soul.
Jesus, Enlightener of my mind.
Jesus, Gladness of my heart.
Jesus, Health of my body.
Jesus, my Savior, save me (adapted from “The Akathist Hymn To Jesus Christ,” in “A Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians” (2009), Holy Transfiguration Monastery).

Luke 2:21 (ESV): 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.

Dear brothers and sisters — people of God — you and I bear that holy name of Jesus. It was given to us and we were given to it. It was poured over us in water, and signed on us with oil. It was invoked over us and we were sealed with it forever in our baptism. It is the most glorious privilege and the most awe-filled burden that anyone can bear. You will leave here soon, bearing the name of Jesus, going into the world to do the work you have been given to do. And so, St. Paul enjoins all the name-bearers of Jesus:

Colossians 3:17 (ESV): 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Whatever we do, whatever we say or think, we do in the holy name of Jesus. And so, it is right, our duty and our joy to pray:

Almighty God, your blessed Son fulfilled the covenant of circumcision for our sake, and was given the Name that is above every name: Give us grace faithfully to bear his Name, and to worship him with pure hearts according to the New Covenant; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN, and as Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of the South.
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1 Response to Feast of the Circumcision and Holy Name

  1. Mary H. Jost says:

    Thank you for this sermon as we face a brand nee year of beginnings. We needvthese thoughts and reminders as we go forward. As we move into advanced age the covenants are more dear to us. I thank God for long life and appreciate each day. Thank you for your service to Him and to us ( the Church).

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