The Circumcision of Christ
The Gospel. St. Luke II. 15.
At that time; And 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 bu the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying God for all the thinks 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.
A couple of years ago, when I was still the Chief Curate at the Cathedral, the Dean informed me that it would be my turn to preach on the first Sunday after Christmas. I admit that at first, I was quite enthusiastic about the opportunity and I remember thinking to myself, “alright! We’ll still be in Christmastide with all of the wonderful stories about our Lord’s birth and such”; what a great and rich source of inspiration for a sermon on the Incarnation of Our Lord. I can’t WAIT to write this one! Just as I was thinking that, I heard Father King saying, “yes, you’ll be preaching on January 1st, the FEAST OF THE CIRCUMCISION”….
Its times like this that I am reminded that God has a sense of humor. OK, got to be careful with THIS one! So, I’m going to start by assuming that you all know what circumcision IS, and focus instead on just what The Circumcision means.
The practice of circumcision was an ancient one, even at the time of Christ. The seventeenth chapter of Genesis tells us that it was originally ordained by God and intended as a sign of the covenant between Himself and Abraham. Apparently tattoos were not in vogue at the time. By the time of Jesus’ birth, the circumcision rite had become a sort of naming ceremony as well, one mandated by the Jewish Law.
However, by this time, the Jewish Scriptures had expanded on the very meaning of the word, “circumcision”. It also came to signify whether one was “clean” or not. If you were “uncircumcised”, it meant that you were profane, imperfect, unclean. When God tells Moses in the sixth chapter of Exodus to go talk to Pharaoh, Moses describes his speech impediment as “uncircumcised lips”. When God tells Jeremiah to speak to the people of Israel, the prophet complains that “their ears are uncircumcised” And when the young David speaks about the enemies of Israel he refers to them as “these uncircumcised Philistines”.
Do you see the two themes here? Imperfect. Unclean. If your lips aren’t perfect, how can you speak correctly? If your ears aren’t clean, how will you be able to hear correctly? Well, as my mom told me a long time ago, YOU CAN’T!
You cannot hear correctly if your ears aren’t clean and you cannot speak correctly if your mouth is messed up. So, the answer must be simple, right? Just see a speech therapist and buy some q-tips and you’re all set. Well, as always, it’s not that easy. Because you can have the cleanest ears in the world and be able to perfectly recite anything in the King’s English, but none of that will matter if you’re not clean at heart as well.
This was the pitfall that many Jews kept falling into which prompted God to send one prophet after another to tell them, “shape up folks!”. The Jews, in particular the Pharisees, thought that by simply performing a little ceremony, you would be made clean. Once again, by focusing on the letter of the Law, they violated the spirit, the intent of the Law. These people wrapped their hearts in contempt for their fellow man. They were so self-righteous that they never realized that they’d made themselves imperfect, profane, unclean, uncircumcised.
St. Paul tries to make this point for us in his letter to the Romans; For he is not a Jew, who is so outwardly: nor is that circumcision which is outwardly in the flesh. But he is a Jew that is one inwardly and the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter: whose praise is not of men, but of God.
OK, so we’re not Jews, and we’re not Pharisees, and about half of us don’t need to worry about the whole circumcision thing anyways, right? So what does this have to do with us? Well, let me rephrase St. Paul a bit; For he is not a Christian, who is so outwardly: nor is that circumcision which is outwardly in the flesh. But he is a Christian that is one inwardly and the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter: whose praise is not of men, but of God.
You see, we do, in fact, run the danger of becoming like those Pharisees. If we wrap our hearts in contempt for our fellow man, we are those Pharisees. If we think that we have done enough already for our Anglican Catholic brothers and sisters in Haiti and Africa, we are those Pharisees. If we shake our heads at the news every night and don’t get on our knees and pray that God will intervene in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and especially here in our own country, we are those Pharisees. We are unclean. We are uncircumcised.
Ah, but now let’s get back to today’s Gospel; And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the Child, his Name was called Jesus. And so, there you have it. Everything you need to do in one sentence. First, circumcision; removing the unnecessary “stuff” from your lives, your thoughts, your hearts and beginning a reform, a cleansing from within. From there, this circumcision proceeds outwardly, to clean your ears so that you can hear the Will of God as professed in the clear truth of His Gospel. And finally, the circumcision that cleans your lips and makes them perfect so that you can follow St. Paul’s directive that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So, what does The Circumcision of Christ mean? It means that God submitted himself to the Law, even though he didn’t have to, so that he might redeem those that really were under the Law. It means that God has provided yet another example of humility and grace for us to follow, to emulate, to worship. It means that God has given us a means by which we may cleanse ourselves, removing that which is imperfect, so that we may be made worthy to proclaim his Gospel. And it means all we need to accomplish this cleansing can be found in the Child whose name is called Jesus.