Glencairn Methodist Church
New Year 2008
I am writing this on 31 December 2007, and tomorrow is the Festival of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.
"Er..., pardon me", do I hear you say, "But aren't you going to write about New Year, giving us a cheery message and the like as we move into 2008?"
Well, yes, I am, but not yet, for tomorrow is, as I said, the Festival of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus, and this is important!
Jesus was a Jew. There are two criteria to being a Jew - you must be born of a Jewish mother, and, if you are a man, you must be circumcised. The Jewish tradition says that a boy should be circumcised eight days after his birth, and we read in Luke 2:21 (NIV), "On the eight day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived."
This Jewish tradition derives from the covenant made between God and Abraham. When God called Abraham to follow him, God promised to give the old and childless Abraham descendants more numerous than all the stars in the sky, and to be the God of all these nations. Abraham, for his part, had to acknowledge God as God, and as an outward and visible sign, had to undergo circumcision himself, to circumcise his son Isaac, and ensure that all his male descendants were also circumcised.
One of the things that seems to have gone wrong for the Jews was that they came to rely simply on their Jewishness, namely circumcision, as assurance that God was on their side no matter what they did. They forgot to acknowledge God as God of their hearts and lives, as Abraham their father did. St Paul refers to this when he writes in Romans 2:28-29 (NIV), "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the spirit, not by the written code."
When the young church, in accordance with Jesus' parting command to make disciples of all nations, send Paul and Barnabas off to bring the Good News to the gentile world, the question arose as to whether gentile converts had to undergo circumcision or not. But God revealed to Peter and Paul that this was no longer necessary, and the Council of Jerusalem agreed with this. A "new expression of church", to use a modern phrase, had been found.
What is required of a Christian is that they acknowledge Jesus as Lord of their life, and that they love God and love their neighbour as themselves. In return Jesus will acknowledge them as his children.
At his circumcision, Jesus was named and, like many names, Jesus has a meaning. Jesus simply means "Saviour".
So may I wish you, dear reader, Happy "Naming-of-Jesus" Day, and may he be your saviour not just for 2008, but for eternity.
31st December 2007
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm