20180114 – Homily on the Circumcision

On this day, the Church celebrates the Resurrection(like every Sunday) and the Circumcision of Christ (the 8th day after the Nativity) and begins preparing for the celebration of the Baptism of Christ (the Sunday before Theophany).  In this homily, Fr. Anthony connects the dots between them all.  Enjoy the show!

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Circumcision and Sunday before the Theophany
Homily Notes: Mark 1:1-8

One verse on the Circumcision (Luke 2:21):

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

Two main concepts here:

  • The newly born Christ child (the one who was born before time by the Father without a mother and born into time by a mother without a father) being circumcised.
  • The newly born Christ child receiving the name of Jesus/Joshua (because He would deliver the people from their sins).

On this day, the Church sings:

The Master was circumcised on the eighth day, and He received the Name of Jesus, for He is the Savior and the Lord of all the world. (8th Canticle of Matins)

Circumcision has ceased for Christ was circumcised of His own will, granting the nations remission of sins, and saving them by grace. (4th Canticle of Matins)

The Law became of no effect when Christ became a Child, and was manifest as the Fulfillment of the Law. By accepting circumcision, He has set us free from its curse. (6th Canticle of Matins)

But, as we heard in today’s Gospel reading, today is also the day we begin anticipating the Baptism of Christ.

The Church would have us know that there is a connection between the Circumcision of Christ (which we celebrate today), the Baptism of Christ (which we begin preparing for today and will celebrate this coming Thursday and Friday), and the Resurrection (which we celebrate on every Sunday, to include today).

This is how St. Cyril of Alexandria put it:

  • St. Paul says that “neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision.” On the [third] day Christ rose from the dead and gave us the spiritual circumcision. He then commanded the holy apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And we affirm that the spiritual circumcision takes place chiefly in holy baptism, when Christ makes us partakers of the Holy Spirit too.
  • Of this Joshua, that Jesus of old, who became the leader of the Israelites after Moses, was also a type. He led the children of Israel across the Jordan, then made them stop and immediately circumcised them with knives of stone. So when we have crossed the Jordan [through Baptism], Christ circumcises us with the power of the Holy Spirit, not by purifying the flesh but rather by cutting off the defilement that is in our souls…
  • [This is why] after Jesus’ circumcision, the rite was abolished by the introduction of baptism, of which circumcision was a type… Formerly a male who was circumcised was included among the people of God by virtue of that seal; nowadays, a person who is baptized and has the seal of Christ [on his heart], becomes a member of God’s adopted family.
  • (Source: Commentary on Luke, Homily 3 as found in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Luke (pp. 44–45). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)

It used to be the case that the men of God were set aside early in life as infants (or later, if need be) by the ritual of circumcision. This was done in accordance with the Law of the Old Covenant or Testament. Later, as an adult, that same man would be known to be a part of God’s chosen people not just by the seal upon his flesh (!), but by his continual commitment to that same Law of the Old Covenant.

We no longer live under the Law of the Old Covenant, the Law which protected but could not save (St. Paul); we live under the New Covenant and are both protected and saved by grace (rather than the Law). That grace is sealed upon our hearts in the ritual of Baptism (and Chrismation). Now the children of God are set aside early in life (or later, if need be) by the ritual of baptism. Later, as an adult, we are known not just by this seal (after all, it is even less visible than the seal of circumcision under the Old Law), but by the grace we manifest through our worship of God and our service to others.

May Our Lord, whose circumcision we celebrate today – and whose baptism we prepare for – strengthen us in that grace now as we celebrate the Holy Eucharist; the meal that unites us to one another and Himself.