A HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE CIRCUMCISION OF CHRIST

 

(Jan. 1/14)

 

About the Edifying Lessons Taught by the Circumcision of Christ

 

        Brothers and sisters!

 

        Today is the first day of January according to the calendar of the Orthodox Church, and we commemorate Christ’s great hierarch Basil.  Additionally, we celebrate one of the feasts of Christ the Saviour Himself, that of His circumcision.  Although this is not one of the nine great feasts of the Lord, it is full of edification and sweet spiritual delight for the Christian soul.  In my homily today, I will explain several ways the Lord’s circumcision edifies us and hopefully, with God’s help, convey to you some sense of the delight.

        Circumcision, dear brothers and sisters, was an Old Testament rite that foreshadowed the Mystery of Christian Baptism.  The Jews performed it on the eighth day after the birth of male children.  It served as the emblem of God’s covenant with Abraham, father of the faithful, to whom the Lord promised many descendants.  For the individual being circumcised, the seal of the covenant was his name, which was formally given him on the day the rite was performed.  Jesus Christ was a descendant of Abraham according to the flesh; therefore, like all other Jews, He was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth.  At the same time, He was given the name announced to the Holy Virgin Mary by the great Archangel Gabriel when he proclaimed to her the Incarnation of the Son of God.

        The name given the divine Child on the day of His circumcision was “Jesus.”  This name means “Saviour” and preeminently befits Christ, because Christ grants salvation bodily and spiritual, temporal and eternal, visible and invisible, having been born into the world to redeem the entire fallen race of man from every ill. 

        And what were those ills, those evils?  Fallen man suffered from darkening of the mind, enfeeblement of the will, impurity of heart, sickness of body, and finally, death, his last enemy, as well as many other infirmities too numerous to mention.  The newborn, divine Child would overcome and cure these ills, altogether and forever delivering mankind from them.  For this reason, no other name so befitted Him as the name Jesus, or “Saviour.”  He did not receive this name as other children receive theirs; that is, because someone in the family had previously borne it, or because the parents liked its sound, or because it had earlier been the name of a person who was famous and admired, but because He perfectly embodied its meaning like no one else.  The angel did not decide upon this name; rather, God the Father made it known to him.  Gabriel in turn reverently announced to the Virgin the name after which the whole nation of Christians in heaven and earth would be called,[1] as Saint Paul says.  Except in this name there is ultimately no deliverance from the evils I have mentioned; neither is there salvation in any other:  for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.[2]  Therefore, dear Christians, we ought to revere and prostate ourself in thought before this name fervently, and ever have it upon the lips of our mouth and mind and heart, for at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[3] 

        The name “Jesus” expresses in one word the whole mystery of our salvation, which is why the pious Christian cannot fail to love this name above all others.  And if he so loves it, then how can he not repeat it as frequently as he can and delight in so doing?  For Jesus is in His name; and in His name is salvation; and when we repeat His name with faith, attention, and love, He enters within us with His name.  And then (behold, the miracle!) He takes up His abode in our inner man, becoming a fountain of living water gushing up grace unto salvation for us.  The ancient Christians constantly repeated this name, calling upon it as they recited the Prayer of Jesus and other prayers, and so, having Jesus dwelling in their heart, they manfully and gladly endured all the bestial tortures inflicted upon them by the pagan Romans.  We see this illustrated most clearly in the case of one of the earliest martyrs, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who had such devotion to the sweetest name of Jesus that, after his martyrdom, when his heart was cut open, that name was inscribed in his heart in letters of gold.

        Besides this, the circumcision of Christ is a source of spiritual delight to us because it presaged the Lord’s world-redeeming Passion.  All the other humiliations and sufferings the Son of God endured on our behalf throughout His earthly life until the Passion were unbloody sacrifices, but at His circumcision we see Christ’s precious blood flow under the knife:  the foreshadowing of the scourging, the crown of thorns, the nails, and the spear.

        Finally, we must not forget that He Who is purity and holiness itself submitted to circumcision at the beginning of His earthly life and that by this He shows us that we must cut off every impure and unholy thought, word, and deed at its very onset, if we are to preserve purity and lead a holy life as did He.  To what other purpose are we granted years of earthly existence, if not to excise our sinful inclinations, our soul-destroying desires and passions, thereby achieving purity of heart, through which we attain communion with God?  If our life is prolonged beyond infancy, when we commit no conscious sin, then clearly it is not so that we can add iniquity to iniquity, but because Heaven awaits our repentance, our decision to take the path of truth and righteousness, and attain to purity and holiness.  And so, let us use our time on earth well, for it is not granted us for its own sake, but so that through repentance and self-amendment we may find Him Who is salvation.  Let us cease to seek fulfillment where we shall never come upon it, and turn to Him Who descended into a virgin’s womb, assumed our flesh, and permitted His divine blood to be shed, in order to bring us redemption.  He ever stands before us, knocking at the door of our heart, covered in His world-redeeming blood, and offering His example – the most moving of all – to turn our hearts to Him.

        Brothers and sisters, as we honor this feast which foreshadows the Saviour’s Passion, let us not shut our eyes and stop our ears yet again, but take up the blade of Christian self-denial, and in the spirit of faith, ever calling upon the all-powerful name of Jesus, cut off without self-pity everything fleshly in us that runs counter to our salvation.  Amen

 

[1] Eph. 3:15

[2] Acts 4:12

[3] Phil. 2:10-11