Archive for January, 2016

Circumcision_PicEach year when I celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision, I am asked some variant of, “What’s up with this feast day?  Isn’t that kind of gross?”  For some reason, the modern mind, which is saturated with some pretty “earthy” images (and that’s just on awards programs), recoils at the mere mention of the circumcision of Christ.  I suppose I don’t understand the squeamishness, unless it is part of a general unease with a Christ Jesus who is too human, too real. Many would prefer a less vivid way to begin the year like commemorating the Holy Name, and avoiding all of that  messy blood spilling stuff.

Indeed, the modern secularist likes their Jesus hazy and indistinct, to the extent they pay any attention to Him at all.  A genuinely Incarnate Christ present in history might be evidence that all of that Christian stuff is true.  The God-Man is personal, all to real and might grow up to make claims upon a person, perhaps even call a soul to obedience and repentance in a very real way.  That’s precisely the point of marking this feast day.

There is a multi-layered theological message to this day.  One can approach it from the perspective of a fulfilling of the Old Law and the obedience inherent in a Bris. There is also a prefiguring of the shedding of blood that will result in mankind’s redemption at Calvary-a kind of first shedding of blood by Christ for us.  We are reminded that the shadow of the Cross falls across the Christmas Crib.  Well and good. These are powerful thoughts for the first day of a new year of our Lord 2016.

But, there is something much deeper that relates to the transformation of a Christian life.  It is the “circumcision of the heart”, the cutting away of sin that must accompany the truly transformed life in Christ.  To use a new year’s metaphor, it is out with the old in a visceral sense, and in with the new.  This morning’s Breviary readings address this in a  “Sermon by St. Ambrose the Bishop“:

So the Child is circumcised.  This is the Child of whom it is said: Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: or again: Made under the Law to redeem them that were under the Law: or again: To present him to the Lord.  In my commentary on Isaiah I have already explained what is meant by being presented to the Lord in Jerusalem, and therefore I will not enter into the subject again.  He that is circumcised in heart gaineth the protection of God, as it is written: The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous.  Ye will see that as all the ceremonies of the Old Law were types of realities in the New Law, so the circumcision of the body signified the cleansing of the heart from the guilt of sin.

But since the body and mind of man remain yet infected with a proneness to sin, the circumcision of the eighth day is meant to put us in mind of that complete cleansing from sin which we shall have at the resurrection. …

Today as we make (and possibly break) our new year’s resolutions, let’s take the message of this Feast of the Circumcision literally to heart and renew our work of circumcising from it the hardness of sin and look toward that complete cleansing-the washing that can only come by His most precious blood.

A blessed 2016 to all!

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 time same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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