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A week in December - Incarnation to Circumcision

Read first Luke 2: 15-21

Let's start at the end.

Sunday 1st January is the Festival of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus. Jesus was a Jewish boy and the Law required that he be circumcised "on the 8th Day". Circumcision is the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace conferred on all Jews, namely membership of the Chosen People of God. They were children of the covenant which God made with Abraham that He would be their God and they would be his people, provided that each kept God's laws and loved him with all their heart, soul and mind.

But they didn't. Like the rest of us they had the perverse tendency to make a mess of things, not doing what they should have done and doing what they shouldn't have done. (We now call this tendency "original sin" and blame it all on Adam and Eve.)

God gave them every chance to mend their ways, but they didn't and had to endure Exile. Even then God was saying though the prophet Jeremiah, that a time would come when he would make a new covenant with Israel when he would say, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

And all this was finally brought about by Jesus. On the 8th day Jesus was not only circumcised but also named, “Jesus”, as instructed by the angel, because he would save his people from their sins. After all that is what his name means – “Saviour”. And he would fulfil this destiny on the cross on Good Friday, and through his resurrection on Easter Day.

Jesus, full of mercy and grace, was and is the greatest Christmas present ever given to men and women, if only we would acknowledge him with "heartfelt love" as our saviour.

Because the early church fathers chose 25th December as Christmas Day, the Naming Day falls on New Year's Day, the 1st January. The name January is derived from the name Janus, who was one of the gods of ancient Rome. He was a two faced god, literally, with a young face looking forward into the new year and an old face looking backward at the old. It is good to reflect on the year just past and to think about the mistakes we made and to make a New Year Resolution not to make the same mistakes again.

When we were babies, our parents and Godparents would have brought us to church for Baptism, the initiation ceremony with its outward sign and its inward grace that includes us within the New Covenant people, the Church. Traditional church architecture has the front door of the building in the west wall, and the baptismal font is just inside. As we grow both in stature and in faith, we move through the building, towards the rails and table, to Confirmation and Holy Communion. Always moving towards the east, to the morning light. Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, in his song the Benedictus, calls Jesus the "Day-spring from on high" who visits us. This lovely word conveys two truths about Jesus - he is the morning light of the world and he is the water of life. It is as if illuminated water flows from east to west and we move through it always upstream towards the source.

Even if we determine our age by counting on from three score and ten, we should still be looking to the Day-spring in the east, and not behind us to the west and the sun setting on our lives in the - always moving towards Jesus.

Whatever your age, may this be your New Year's Resolution.

Ken (31 December 2016)

Note that this Message is inspired in part by the entry for 21st December in Malcolm Guite's book Waiting on the Word, A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Easter.

PS there are other events symbolically placed in this week also, the Festival Days of St Stephen (26th), St John the Evangelist (27th) and the Holy Innocents (28th). Reflect on what this symbolism means to the Christian Life. (See the Message for January 2016, for example)

  NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at