Commemorating the Circumcision of Christ

January 1, 2014

Ouch! It is such an unpopular topic that the Circumcision has just about disappeared from the various liturgical calendars. Roman Catholics started getting nervous about it back in the 60s. Until 1960, the General Roman calendar gave 1 January as the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord and the Octave of the Nativity. Since 1969, the General Roman Calendar marks January 1 as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, referring to it also as the Octave of the Nativity. Pope Paul VI designated the day as a World Day of Peace in 1974.

Nobody wants to think about pain and shedding blood, but that is the purpose for which our Savior became fully human. Another equally unpopular idea is that of law, under which Jesus was placed by the cutting of his flesh. This important date, properly recalled, reminds us that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. In other words, we have a Savior who can save. He can enter the Holiest place with his own innocent blood.

But that is a fairly gruesome thought and hardly in keeping with all of this peace on earth stuff. The traditional church calendar observed by Anglicans for centuries gives one a number of hard knocks. We remember Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, on December 26. Now, that is a pretty hard kick in the teeth. Two days later, the genocidal ravings of Herod the Great are brought to mind in the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Top it all off with the pain and bloodshed of circumcision, and this is not exactly the most perfect holiday season ever!

The reality into which the church seeks to lead Christian believers is that God has come to a fallen world. This is a place of rejection, wrongful death, abuse of authority, death to those least deserving, and the ceremonial pain associated with inclusion into the covenant of God’s law. This is the world of Jesus’ birth. Into such a flawed land of inequity, a loving God took upon himself the work of restoring mankind to a previous harmonious relationship with Himself.

The sign of circumcision was given to Abraham as a sign of the covenant relationship established through Abraham’s faith. That is how we approach Jesus. There is the matter of belief and that is backed up with the change of our hearts and behavior.

When Jesus arrived, things begin to change. Pagan star gazers are moved by who-knows-what (might it be the Holy Spirit?) to leave home (Persia?) and look for a newly born monarch – a game changer. To all the right thinking religious people, that bunch of superstitious astrologers and intellectual star gazers would have been the absolute last people God would have chosen to inform of his pending miraculous arrival, but there we have it. Christ is not only king to the supposed right kind of people, but to all people who will follow his way.

Shepherds would not have made it into the temple, because their profession made them ritually impure.This class of ne’re-do-wells is not permitted to testify in court and the gook folks, for the most part, keep shepherds at arm’s length. God on High, however, has different plans and sends angels to tell the news of a Savior to such men and women out in the fields of Bethlehem. No angel stopped off at Herod’s opulent palace, or even to the homes of religious leaders. The Lord Almighty specializes in making the weak strong.

Jesus overcame a world where Satan pushes back by killing a faithful servant such as Stephen. Jesus lived among real grief and the humiliation of an occupying army. He joined the real world of weeping parents and placed himself under the law which he had inspired. Our salvation was not achieved by a magic act or somebody who excluded himself from suffering.

Now that Jesus has come, pagans are invited to meet the King, no-counts  are no longer automatically rejected, and God’s people are beginning to occupy the earth. This does not mean that believers run the show, or that they are intended to be in charge just now. We trust in God’s faithfulness and look for a better world where Jesus will rule with just the right measure of justice and mercy. He is truly worthy.

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