Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ

From very early in the history of the Christian Church – from the time when the calendar of the church was just rudimentary, this day of the first of January, which, according to one of the Roman reckonings, was the new year and also corresponded with the Satur>>> or the time when Chaos reigned and people lived as though it were the end of the world and behaved in wild and reckless ways – not anything we know about today, right? The church decided that this day would be a day when the people would gather for a Synaxis. The Roman Catholic church later made a list of days of obligation, and there are not many of these days, these are days which according to their reckoning, you go to hell if you miss. And they put this day on there. Oddly enough, they seemed to lack cognizance of what the day meant, because it was called originally the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord and they got kind of embarrassed about that because it sounded sort of Jewish so then they called it The Holy Family, and then they called it The Holy Name, and then they called it the Solemnity of Somebody or the other. All they knew was that you should be in church on New Year’s day. But let’s talk about the significance of the circumcision for a moment. You understand that in the old testament God made several covenants with the human race. He made a covenant with Abraham, and then prior to that with Noah. And he made a covenant with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai; he also made a covenant with David the King: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.” And he also said, “I have sworn and shall not repent. Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedeck.” But each covenant had a distinctive characteristic that marked it as a special rite, for just as our people in Eastern Europe don’t talk about butchering or killing an animal for food because that shows such deep disrespect for the life of the animal – they talk about cutting the animal, or sacrificing the animal - so a covenant was always sealed by a cutting. In fact, the Hebrew word for the making of a covenant – barif – was to cut a covenant. There was usually the offering of the blood of a sacrificial animal. In some cases the in sacrifice, the animal became a holocaust – a whole burnt offering, its whole body was burnt. In most cases, the animal was cut, the blood was poured on the ground, parts were offered to God and the rest was shared between the priests and the family. But every covenant was sealed by blood. And when God spoke to Abraham, He spoke to him of the cutting of the covenant of circumcision in his flesh. And He said to Moses, “Everyone who is cut around in the flesh of the foreskin on the eighth day will be cut off from the people.” And so it was the marks of the circumcision, cut in the flesh of each male, that made him a Jew. It was not the clinical act of circumcision, it was not the medical procedure. It was the spiritual act – cutting into the flesh the marks that then reminded that person from that day on that he was in a solemn covenant with God. And in the cutting of the flesh, blood was shed. When we think about it, our Lord Jesus Christ came and was born, and on the eighth day his parents could have said, “This is God himself. This is the one to whom sacrifices are offered. We don’t believe it meet or correct to take him to be cut in his flesh, to have his blood shed.” Nevertheless, they did so. On the eighth day they took him and he was circumcised in his flesh. What did he do by being circumcised in the flesh? You see, we sometimes in modern culture, driven by liberal theologians, talk about an old covenant as though it’s still in effect, and a new covenant. But what Christ did was that when he underwent the rite of circumcision, and later when on the 40th day he allowed himself to be offered in the temple and redeemed by his parents, he took into himself the old covenant. Jesus became not only the author of the Old Testament, he became the Old Testament itself. So that when we were baptized into him, we were baptized into the Old Testament and the New alike. There remained one covenant – the new covenant. And this covenant is not without circumcision either. But it is not the circumcision of the flesh. It is the circumcision of the heart, for St. Paul tells us that with the finger of God our stony hearts have been cut around, circumcised, and made into fleshy hearts, into a nous capable of receiving the light and knowledge of God. And he says of himself, speaking of the marks of the circumcision that the Jews boasted in, “Let no man trouble me for I bear in my body, not the marks of circumcision, but the marks of the Lord Jesus, the marks of His Crucifixion. I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we honor God’s extreme humility. The same humility that led him to Golgotha. The humility that allowed him to be borne as a child into the temple, to have himself a victim of a sacrifice offered to God, and, in so doing, the one who closed the door on the old covenant and opened to us the Kingdom of God.

Through him who suffered circumcision of the flesh for our salvation, be glory and honor now and ever and unto ages of ages. Glory to Jesus Christ.

Glory forever.

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