An Obscure but Important Feast Day: January 1st
Happy New Year! Before we delve into our resolutions, the tradition of the Christian church urges us to revisit that moment in the life of our Lord when He was circumcised and His name was publicly bestowed.
Christians in both Eastern and Western traditions have observed the Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus on the First of January. Surrounded by such truly festive Feast Days like Christmas (December 25) and Epiphany (January 6), the Circumcision and Name of Jesus may seem like a rather obscure and even lackluster occasion when compared with its liturgical neighbors. But, let’s take a minute to reflect on the significance of what Jesus has done for us on this occasion.
Circumcision is the Old Testament sign of the relationship (covenant) between Yahweh and His people. It is a command given to Abraham and to all those after him (Genesis 17). Along with the Law of command to circumcise given to Abraham, God also speaks a promising word of Gospel. The good news spoken to Abraham is that he will be the father of many nations. From him shall come a promised line of redemption From Isaac, to Jacob, then Judah, etc. God sustains His people. In the course of time God Himself will ensure that the Savior is born to redeem all people. Circumcision is the outward means by which God marks His faithful people as His own.
In the course of many centuries gone by, God revealed to a young Hebrew virgin named Mary that she would bear a Son, very God of very God, begotten not made, Jesus by name. He is the promised Messiah to forgive sins and usher in God’s eternal kingdom. When Jesus was born, He was born without sin being fully God, yet He subjected Himself to live under God’s Law like the rest of sinful humanity. This meant also being circumcised on the eighth day. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4).
When Jesus was circumcised, He was fulfilling God’s commandment according to His human nature and yet according to His divine nature, He was doing the Law for all mankind in order to redeem those from under the Law’s burden and curse. Jesus is establishing a New Testament by fulfilling the Old on our behalf!
Consider also, that when Jesus was circumcised, He shed the first of His blood for us men and for our salvation! Wow!
This gets us to the significance of His name, Jesus. Jesus, or as it is rendered in Hebrew, Yeshua means literally, “Yahweh saves”. God saves and He certainly does through His son, Jesus. This is why His name was given by the Angel Gabriel to Mary with all its prophetic and cross-shaped meaning to merit the salvation of the world! (Matthew 1:21) Though His name was already known to His family, it would publicly become known at His circumcision when all male children were named.
Fine and good, you may be thinking, but, so what?! This is the amazing part when it all comes together. All of this circumcision and naming business is done by Jesus, for us! God is for us and has come to save us. Circumcision of the Old Covenant and Baptism of the New Covenant are 100% related. Colossians 2:9-14 states explicitly that in Christ, even we have been circumcised with Him by virtue of the “circumcision made without hands” that we have received. By this, the Apostle Paul means Baptism. We have been so completely joined to Jesus at our Baptism that the merit of His circumcision, the fulfillment of the Law, and even Jesus’ own name and status are applied now to us!
By means of Baptism, we received God’s grace and have been joined to Him in faith. We too are named at our Baptism. God knows our name and calls us by it. At the same time, we have received Jesus’ name and are called the children of God even as Jesus is God’s own Son. We have been redeemed from under the Law by the Son of God and received adoption as sons of God, just as Galatians has taught us. All that belongs to Jesus by nature, now belongs to us by faith. Baptism is the outward means by which God now marks His faithful people as His own. We now enjoy a familial relationship with God also calling Him Father, just like Jesus does! We have been forgiven our sins and have an eternal life with our Heavenly Father to look forward to.
May your new year begin blessed as the baptized and redeemed people of God in Christ!
Yours in Jesus,