A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
St Stephen’s, Cheltenham, 2014, Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.
To remind ourselves of the significance of today’s celebration , we need to return to St Matthew’s Gospel, where we are told that the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream instructed him to call the child which Mary would bear, JESUS, and Joseph had no intercourse with Mary until the child was born and Joseph named him Jesus. St Luke refers to the Jewish fulfilment of the Law with just a few words – eight days later (after the shepherds visit) the time came to circumcise him and he was given the name Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.
The focus of today’s gospel is therefore the shortest in the whole of the liturgical year – just a few lines are used to share with us what we are celebrating this morning and which has been celebrated by the church since the sixth century. So, why is such an event as the circumcision of Jesus celebrated with a special Mass, with special readings and collect so soon after Christmas?
Well it is well documented as an historical fact that all Jewish boys at the time of Jesus – and for many years before – were circumcised according to the Law of Moses, and this ceremony was performed usually at home, usually by the child’s father, and only occasionally by a Jewish priest. In art works by famous painters , this ceremony has been Christianised and we see the scene depicted in great canvases of the child Jesus undergoing circumcision in what looks very much like a church , performed by what looks like a Jewish Rabbi .
The gospel makes no reference to any special ceremony, merely stating what was common place to the reader, an event, a religious ceremony that all baby boys went through. So why do Matthew and Luke mention it at all, and why so briefly? Well as reminder of last Sunday’s Gospel, you will recall that Matthew wanted to emphasise to his readers, that Jesus was the long promised Messiah of the Old Testament Prophets. In his Gospel he continues that reminder and St Luke, whom we have heard this morning – writing for a different readership, also emphasises, to his readers in a few brief words, that the Jesus did indeed fill all the requirements of Jewish Law and custom in accordance with the prophesies of the OT and in accordance with the message given by the angel to Mary and Joseph.
There are possibly four reasons why today is so important a Festival and needs to be celebrated.
A: Today marks the octave of Christ’s nativity- the customary eight day period commemorating an important event in the life of Jewish families.
B: Today commemorates the giving of a new and long foretold name. The child’s name is held secret by the parents in any Jewish household- even today – until the day of circumcision.
C; Today commemorates the first sharing of human pain and suffering experienced by the child Jesus , the first shedding of his blood, and looks forward in time to the ultimate shedding of that blood on the cross.
D: finally it marks the true Jewishness of Jesus, the acceptance and adoption by him of that seal, that covenant made by God with Abraham expressed in the Jewish Law of Moses.
This is the sign of my covenant between me and you and your seed after you. Every male among you shall be circumcised on the eighth day in every generation.
So today we are celebrating an important event in the life of our Lord an event which continues to link us to his birth but also takes us forward to the reason for his coming to dwell among us, revealed to us on calvary.
A very short mention in the Gospels – but one that needs meditating upon, and acting upon in the words of that favourite hymn – at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess him, king of glory now. It is the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord, ever to be worshipped, trusted and adored. May that be our honour and our joy during the year now beginning . Thanks be to God.