THE TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS – Puer natus est
Introit: (Is. 9) Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his Name shall be called Angel of mighty counsel. Ps. (98) O sing unto the Lord a new song: for he hath done marvellous things. Glory be … Unto us …
Collect: Almighty God, who madest thy 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 thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: When Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. (Genesis 17.1-13)
Gradual: (Ps. 98) All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God: O be joyful in God, all ye lands. V. The Lord hath declared his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.
Epistle: Brethren: Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect. (Romans 4.8-14)
Alleluia. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: It came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (St Luke 2.15-21)
Today’s celebration may seem a bit indelicate to our modern sensibilities—so much so, that most recent liturgical books simply call it the “Naming of Jesus.” But for followers of the Jewish faith, (and remember, the Holy Family were Jewish), it is an occasion of rejoicing even greater than the Christian celebration of a child’s Baptism. Commonly known as a Bris (Yiddish, from the Hebrew בְּרִית מִילָה – B’rith milah, or Covenant of cutting), performed the eighth day after birth, this ceremony celebrates the establishment of the covenant originally made between God and Abraham and now confirmed between God and the infant boy. He becomes a “son of the covenant.” The first person whom God required to be circumcised was Abraham. God had called Abram from Ur of the Chaldees (Iraq), to go to the land of Canaan in order to establish a people for Himself. This nation would be the chosen people through whom the Saviour would ultimately come. Abram believed the Lord, and did as He told him, and this act of faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. In giving Abram, our father in faith, the covenant of circumcision, God also bestowed on him a new name, Abraham. From that time forward, the giving of a name had a great spiritual importance for the Jewish people.
In our Christian calendar, this Feast is significant for two reasons. In the early Church (and in some sects even today), there was some dispute over whether or not our Lord were truly and fully human or merely an apparition. The circumcision demonstrates that Jesus was indeed a physical flesh-and-blood being. But secondly, since the rite of circumcision involves laceration of the flesh and shedding of blood, this is seen as a foreshadowing of Our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross, the first shedding of His Blood in atonement for our sins, and, through the reception of His holy Name, the proclamation of His mission to be Redeemer of the world.
So it was automatic that His faithful parents would fulfil this commandment for our infant Lord. Indeed, obedience to the Law marked every step of Our Lord’s “doing His Father’s will.” For every other Hebrew boy, circumcision was an expression of hope, of a covenant promise of life and a new creation. But for this little Boy, circumcision meant that He was destined for death. Christmas loses its true meaning if there is no reference to Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection. If He is just a poor little baby in a manger, or an example of how to live a godly and generous life, then the Christ of Christmas is distorted and caricatured. There must be some mention of the reason why “the Word was made flesh,” and that reason is to die on the cross to take away the sin of the world. So He is taken away from His blessed Mother for a moment, and if the line from the carol, “but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes,” were ever actually true, well, what happened next would put an end to that in short order. This would be His first shedding of blood for the salvation, not only of Israel, but of the whole world. From the time of Abraham, the ritual was a rite of passage that designated the infant as separate from the unbelieving Gentiles, and part of God’s holy nation—of becoming one of the family. No matter how dark things looked, the faithful Israelites knew that God was with them, and would keep them; He had delivered them in the past, and would deliver them again. They were His people. And for a boy, that all began with circumcision. To be circumcised was to be placed under the Law, given to Moses on Sinai, which directed Israel to behave in certain ways, to do certain things and abstain from others.
Circumcision was also a representation of sin being removed. Jesus had come into the world to bear the sin of the world. In His circumcision, He willingly took our place under the Law. The innocent One stepped in for all of the guilty, out of His divine self-giving love. As we read in II Cor. 5.21, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” So, the infant Jesus begins His earthly life by shedding His Blood for us. Thus His circumcision is important to us, because we are naturally born under the curse of the Law, since, as fallen creatures, we are incapable of keeping it. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2.10) Being under the Law, we are subject to it. We are required to obey every commandment in thought, word, deed, and desire. But of course we know we fall short, whether it is profaning God’s Name, or stealing, or telling a “white lie,” or adultery, or coveting, if we offend in one part, we are guilty of all. We are humanly incapable of keeping God’s Law. But Christ, as the eternal Son of the Father, is not naturally under the Law. Rather, He places Himself under the Law for our sake. St Paul writes, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” (Galatians 5.3) Jesus, by being circumcised, obligated Himself to keep the whole Law, and fulfilling what Paul says in the same Epistle, “But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4.4-5) As H. P. Liddon wrote, in a Christmastide sermon over a century ago:
Consider what this must have meant in the case of our Lord. Not only did He voluntarily submit to ordinances which He Himself had instituted, but to ordinances which had in reality no purpose or meaning except as referring to Himself. They were the shadows, He the Reality. They were an acted prediction, of which He was the Fulfilment. They were but types. He the Antitype. They were designed to create in the human conscience, as St. Paul has shown, a sense of moral want which He alone could satisfy. Yet, as if He had everything to learn respecting Himself, and to feel the need of everything which He Himself alone could give, He submitted to them. He could not have done more had He been consciously ignorant, consciously criminal. And yet He could not have done less, if He was to represent us, in His Life of perfect obedience, as well as on His Cross of unutterable pain and shame. As He said to St. John the Baptist, “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” [St. Matt. iii. 15.] The painful and humiliating rite by which a Jewish infant was admitted to the covenant between his forefathers and God befitted One Who came on earth, not to do His own will, but the Will of Him That sent Him. [St. John vi. 38.]
Today, Jesus places himself totally under the Law, for us all. He makes a commitment to keep the Law perfectly on our behalf. What matters is not how much we resolve to do for God, but what God has promised to do – and has already done – for us in Christ. Today, then, is a day of celebration for us, as well, for in submitting to the Law, Jesus has freed us from the curse of the Law.
At this time also, the Holy Babe was given His name, the Name that the angel gave to Joseph and to Mary. “Jesus” is a perfectly ordinary human name. Any number of boys in Judea might have borne this name. Jesus is simply the New Testament (Greek/Latin) version of the Hebrew name Joshua or Isaiah – “The Lord Saves.” Yet in the Bible there is always more to a name than mere sentimentality or liking the sound of it. And this Jesus literally does what His name means: the Lord saves. This is the Name of the Son of the Most High God. When we add that to His title, Christ (Messiah), we get, “The Anointed One, the Lord who saves.” The Name of Jesus will cause controversy, scandal and offence. The Name of Jesus causes kingdoms to topple. And this is the only Name under heaven whereby we are saved. This is the Name that is higher than any other name. This is the Name by which prayer is heard, the Name by which God-in-the-flesh is known.
As the promised Saviour, Christ breathes into the Old Testament types and shadows their fulfilment and divine life, as was predicted in Jeremiah 31: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers … but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” That which God promised, the forgiveness of sin, would now be a reality. No longer would God hold our sin against us. All would be forgiven and wiped away through Christ. The New Law of grace inaugurated by Our Lord’s Incarnation emphasizes the interior transformation to which the exterior ritual had first pointed. But such a conversion of heart was foreshadowed even in the Torah itself: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” (Dt 30.6) We are called to love with our whole being this God who first loved us so much that He sent His only-begotten Son, knowing what would be the price of such a mission. Payment of that price was begun eight days after His birth, when our Saviour shed His Blood for the first time at His circumcision. Jesus was born to save, and the road to the cross began in His infancy. In a sense, the mohel’s knife was the first instrument of His Passion. But recalling that our Lord, through the obedience of His parents, fulfilled this painful precept of the Old Law eight days after His nativity encourages us to fulfil the precepts that support our own life of grace.
Because of sin, we were separated from God; and His commandments, which we all have broken, condemned us and all of humanity to eternal death. But solely by God’s grace, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Baptism has separated us from this fallen world, and welcomed us into the family of God. Our constant, daily pattern of repentance, dying and rising with Christ is an active remembrance of our Baptism. Circumcision was Jesus’ transition from the poor baby lying in a manger to the suffering Saviour dying on a cross. His Name was given to Him, but that same Name is placed upon us in blessing and bestows upon us a new identity. Through faith in Christ, we are now living in the reality of things but hoped for in previous ages. Just as God gave Jesus His name, so He has given us new names. Instead of calling us condemned sinners, He now calls us “saints,” a name that Jesus has earned for us. He calls us a “holy people.” Through faith in Jesus Christ, we take on a new name. We have been freed from the chains that bound us. We are righteous, not because we have resolved to make ourselves better people, but because God graciously bestows righteousness upon us through the flesh and blood of Jesus. Long before He goes to the cross, the Lord takes a Name and bleeds for you and me. He is our righteousness.
Before Jesus talks, before He crawls or takes His first step, before He can even hold His head up by Himself, His Blood is shed for you and me. That is why we celebrate His circumcision. Jesus fulfils the Law perfectly—every commandment. He bears the pain, the suffering, the blood, the death the Law demands. And we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. We become children of the covenant, heirs of life, and offspring of Abraham, because of eight-day-old God-in-the-flesh.
So as one calendar year comes to a close, and another begins, we again celebrate the salvation our Lord began for us on the eighth day of His walk among us in the flesh. He has truly separated us, as far as the east is from the west, from our sins, from our fears and anxieties. He has cut off the carnal nature that had identified us with a fallen world, and has given us instead a purified heart and a new name. He has incorporated us into His kingdom, and made us heirs of eternal life. So, at this time of year when resolutions are made about all the things we want to try to change, know that our unchanging Saviour has resolved, before we were even born, to come into this world, to bleed for us and take a Name for us – to suffer and die and rise again for us. While human resolutions are quickly forgotten, the Father never forgets the Blood of Christ or the saving Name He has placed upon us. No matter what this New Year brings, we belong to God. Our sins are forgiven. We are His children. In Nomine Iesu. Amen.
Collect: O God, by whose grace we celebrate the eighth day after our Saviour’s birth: Grant, we beseech thee, that as we have been restored through the taking upon him of our flesh, so we may evermore be succoured and defended by his Divinity; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
May our Lord Jesus Christ, who by his Incarnation joined heaven to earth and earth to heaven, fill you with his joy and peace; And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.