Circumcision of Chirst

 

“Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives ” [Sunday Collect]
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As a footnote to my sermon on Christmas Eve I wish to relate something we learned just the other nite. It relates to a point I made about most Americans having no appreciation of the religious aspect of modern Christmas. We had dinner with some friends the wife of whom had been a student of Anneliese. She had moved with HP to Israel where she married an Arab CHRISTIAN. After ten years there they moved away from the violence back to Fort Collins with their three cute children.

They pointed out that Christmas is very hard to find in the land of Christ. In the last sixty years the Christian population has dwindled tremendously. Only in Nazareth and Bethlehem does one today get a sense of Christmas. It is quite common for schools to plan final exams on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. So, it is not just in America where Christmas and Christians suffer, but also in the land of our Savior’s birth.

Since I preached on Christmas Eve with all the poinsettias and candles the Church has had… a lot of blood. On the calendar one might have noticed that the days immediately following Christmas are full of martyrs. On the 26th, the Church commemorated St. Stephen its first deacon and also first martyr. The very next day, last Monday, the Church remembered St. John the Evangelist. Last Tuesday was the commemoration of all the Holy Innocents. And last Wednesday the church honored St. Thomas a’ Becket. Those who know their history remember that he was murdered by knights of English King Henry the Second in 1170 while near the high altar at Canterbury Cathedral as evening vespers were being chanted. His story can only inspire any Christian.

Finally, yesterday was the Feast of the Circumcision of our Savior. This commemorates the day on earth when he was received finally by men, by the name of Jesus. While it is a White day, obviously any circumcision also involves some blood shed. Thus, in the wake of the tremendous joy of Christmas just days ago, and of which the octave ended just yesterday, we have the symbolism of blood already appearing on the scene. Jesus has only been around on earth a few days and already we see reminders of the violence which sought to destroy Jesus and still seeks to destroy his Gospel, his Glad tidings of great joy. Thus, the modern name for yesterday appearing on Church calendars, that of the Holy Name of Jesus, lacks the Jewish background of our Savior and also forfeits the ability to remind us of the violent response of the world to his glad tidings.

Again, yesterday was the day when Jesus received his name officially, but his name already had been announced as “Jesus” by angels at the time of the Annunciation. Jesus is the Anglicized version of Joshua which in Hebrew is Yeshua and in Latin Emmanuel. “Jesus” means as we know, “God with us”. The early and great Church fathers pointed out that this teaches that Jesus was known as “God with Us” also in heaven, since the angels announced him by this name at the time of the Annunciation.

The Circumcision is a critically important event in the life of Jesus. For one thing it shows that he who was the fulfillment of the Law began life as every other Jewish boy has since the days of Abraham. It was an event that those who have wanted to see Jesus as other than totally human… have wanted to ignore. The early Gnostics, who rejected human flesh as inferior to ones spirit and wanted only a spiritual Jesus, could not accept the idea of a god getting circumcised.

Today the danger is more on the flip-side, namely, people who want to reject the spiritual or more precisely, the Divine nature of Jesus. They would argue that the angel Gabriel merely told Mary to name her yet to be conceived son by whatever name he (Gabriel) had been ordered to relate.

Yet, if pressed to explain why Jesus might have a different name on earth than in heaven, they would probably shrug their shoulders and say, “God only knows”. They, in their ignorance, would be correct of course. The amount that humans know is very limited compared to God’s knowledge. God is all knowing so it is indeed safe to say, “God knows”. No parent gives his child one name in America and another for use in another country.
A parent will call his or her child, for example John or Mary, by that name whether John or Mary is in Denver or in Berlin. The only time a parent conceivably might give his child a new name would be to protect him, just as a government might give a spy a code name or a witness a new identity.

Given that God is all powerful and knew that Jesus would end up dying a terrible death one is hard pressed to entertain seriously that He would give Jesus a different name on planet earth than that by which he already was known “upstairs” in heaven. “God with us” is a pretty divine sounding name, how could it possibly be improved upon in heaven, and would Jesus be known by an inferior name upstairs than downstairs, so to speak?

The answer of course is that it is not possible. God, who is perfect, always would refer to his only begotten son by the best name. He would no more insult him on earth than in heaven. And so we do indeed know that God with us, Emmanuel, Joshua, Yeshua is and always has been Jesus’ name in heaven, just as it has been on earth for over 2000 years. The name of Jesus was compared by the great 12th Century abbot St. Bernard to the oil
of anointing, a word used by Isaiah in our Epistle, “the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings”. We might remember that this is the very passage which Jesus read when in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.
As we know, oil supplies nutrition, such as moisture for skin. It also can burn or create warmth, especially some prescription salves I have known. It also of course helps to heal. Thus, by comparing Jesus name to the oil of anointing, St. Bernard tells us that Jesus’ name gives us nourishment, comforts us, and heals us. A corollary to all three is that we receive illumination or light. And of course we all know that light has as its bitter enemy… the forces of darkness.

Light shows dangers that may be near and can point out safe paths. Avoiding danger and knowing the safe path to take in any endeavor is a classic sign of wisdom. This was one of the reasons why in our Advent seasonal collect we asked to put on at Christmas the “armor of light”, that we might better see our enemies and know where to walk in the path of life. Light shining anywhere chases away darkness and exposes anything that was hidden by the darkness. We may remember our same Advent collect included the petition to help us, “cast away our works of darkness”. We also sang a well known Advent hymn about it, “hark a thrilling voice is sounding” which contains that exact phrase. Nothing is hidden in light or from light.

For its part, darkness fights against light. As we heard on Christmas Eve during the Last Gospel, “the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not”. Darkness can not understand its opposite, light. Darkness throughout the Bible is portrayed as the opposite of light, the correct path of wisdom that of Jesus. Isaiah nine states that , “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.” John and the other Evangelists each talk about people “sitting” or “being in darkness” without the light of Christ. Perhaps the image of light is most aptly put by St. Matthew who wrote, “let your light so shine before men that they may SEE your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven”. And so now we see why the name of Jesus has been called a light unto the whole world. His name alone illuminates men’s lives. His name is often the last words on a dying Christians’ lips. His name by which he was known in heaven has been made known upon earth first by the Annunciation, then by the Nativity, then by his Circumcision, his ministry, then by his Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. Beginning with his apostles and through us we are called to carry the light of his name into every corner of our life. Having his light shine forth in our lives would be a truly appropriate present to thank him for his Christmas gift of the opportunity for salvation. Ours would be a present more wonderful than even those brought by the gentile wise men of Babylon who followed the light of the Christmas star: more wonderful than either gold, frankincense, or myrrh. Amen.