Feast of the Circumcision of Christ
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
A MEDITATION FOR THE OCTAVE OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY
- St. Luke 2:21 -
At that time, when eight days were fulfilled for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given Him by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
On the eighth day after Christmas, January 1st, we celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ, for, according to the Law of the Old Covenant, Jewish boys were circumcised on the eighth day after birth. Circumcision is a sign of the covenant of God and the chosen people of Israel. The law of circumcision continued in force until the death of Christ. Our Savior was circumcised that He might redeem those who were under the law, by freeing them from the servitude of it (cf. Galatians 4:5).
In the salvation history of the chosen people, God had also made a covenant with Abraham. Prior to that God had made a covenant with Noah. God made a covenant with David the King and the Book of Psalms records this covenant:
“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee” (Psalm 2:7).
And he also said,
“I have sworn and shall not repent. Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedeck” (Psalm 109:4).
Each covenant had a distinctive characteristic that marked it as a special rite. In examining these covenants, we can notice that each covenant was always sealed by a cutting. In fact, the Hebrew word for the making of a covenant – barif – was to “cut a covenant.”
So, there was usually the offering of the blood of a sacrificial animal. In some cases, the animal became a holocaust – a whole burnt offering. In most cases, the animal was cut, the blood was poured on the ground, parts were offered to God and the rest was shared between the priests and the family. But every covenant was sealed by blood.
When God spoke to Abraham, the covenant required the cutting of the flesh – circumcision. The Book of Leviticus records, God said to Moses:
“And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Leviticus 12:3).
Thus, the mark of the circumcision, cut in the flesh of each male, identified him a Jew. And in the cutting of the flesh, blood was shed. Circumcision was performed for the cleansing and purification of the child who was to be named. In Jewish culture, the significance of a name is great, as it describes the person who holds it and their purpose in life.
By the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, we now have the Holy Sacrament of Baptism as our New Testament Sacrament of initiation. St. Paul teaches that baptism has replaced circumcision. He refers to baptism as “the circumcision of Christ” and “the circumcision made without hands” (Colossians 2:11).
Of course, under the Old Law, it was mainly infants who were circumcised; circumcision of adults was rare, because Jews were very intolerant to gentiles and refused consistently to evangelize them. If St. Paul, in making this parallel, meant to exclude infants from baptism, he would have said so. Thus, in reading the fathers of the Church we see that they do have debates over infant baptism in the church. But the debate is not over whether or not the Church should baptize infants.
No! Their debate was over whether or not they should perform the infant baptisms on the eighth day after the Old Testament custom of circumcising the boys on the eighth day. In the end, the Church simply said that it would not be required to wait eight days to baptize but that it would be best to baptize the infants as soon as is possible, even the same day or next day if possible.
At the Circumcision of the Lord, the Holy Name of Jesus was spoken. The Holy Name was announced by the Angel at Mary’s Annunciation, and St. Paul tells us that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow” and “every tongue confess” Him Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). What's in a name though? For Jesus it defined who He is. The name of Jesus means “The Lord will save.” So Jesus has been born to be our Savior. Jesus receives His name, and His mission is to reconcile the world unto God the Father. Jesus' name is who He is. Jesus saves!
It is here on the day of His Circumcision that His Holy Name is first spoken in the Temple of Jerusalem. But we hear his Holy Name again at Golgotha when Jesus was marked by the lashings of a whip and the piercing of nails and the prick of thorns. The manger and the cross you see are bound together. Every child is born to live. Every child but one. Christ was born to suffer and die for your salvation. And so, the manger and cross did not come easily. The manger and the cross involve the shedding of blood.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that even the drops of the Precious Blood shed by Christ at his Circumcision were enough to win our salvation. But our Lord Jesus loved us so much that he chose to march to Calvary to shed his blood to the last drop. The spilling of Jesus’ blood is life giving for us sinners. By the Holy Name of Jesus He was circumcised today, but by that same Holy Name he was crucified on Good Friday for our salvation.
The message of the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord is to put off the “old man,” born of Adam and Eve, which is spiritually dead (Ephesians 4:23-24). This feast tells us to put on the new man, born again of water and the Spirit, whose Head is the New Adam, Jesus Christ. For the Jews, circumcision was not principally a clinical act or medical procedure. It was a spiritual act – a cutting into the flesh that would ever remind that man that he was in a solemn covenant with God.
To fulfill the Law and Prophets Christ underwent all the ceremonies and rites of the Old Law, though, as the Son of God, he had no need for it. In this Christ teaches us to obey God’s commandments. As God, our Lord was the author of the Old Testament; as God-made-man, Our Lord accomplished the perfection of the Old Testament. So that when we were baptized into Him, sharing in the New Covenant of grace, we experience the circumcision of the heart.
St. Paul tells us that with the finger of God our stony hearts have been cut around, circumcised, and made into fleshy hearts, capable of receiving the light and knowledge of God.
St. Paul says of himself, speaking of the marks of the circumcision that the Jews boasted in:
“Let no man trouble me for I bear in my body, not the marks of circumcision, but the marks of the Lord Jesus, the marks of His Crucifixion. I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).