Sermon for New Year’s Day

The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus

Galatians 4:4-7

[Phil 2:5-13]

Luke 2:15-21


Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

So by a quirk of the church calendar – the eighth day of Christmas is New Year’s Day, the day when Jesus is circumcised and named. A day for giving thanks for New Life, New Beginnings. Those of us fortunate to have children of course might hear in these words from St Luke, an echo of the baptism of our own children. Certainly in days gone by, when life was in many regards more precarious than it has been for us, you didn’t hang around for a baptism. I was baptized within two months of my birth.

Years later, the first baptism I performed in my own parish was of a four year old boy . . . that is one I most certainly will not forget . . . I saw that child grow up and wondered often, ‘I’m not sure that that one took . . .’

Well there are parallels between baptism and circumcision, both traditionally have the element of naming – but this week we are concerned with the naming and circumcision of Jesus, and circumcision was a sign of ‘belonging’, belonging to a people. And in the time of Jesus it was associated with The Law of Moses. Circumcision had another older, much deeper meaning to which we shall return, but in the time of Jesus you were as St Paul puts it to the Galatians, born to a woman, born under the Law. Keeping the Law of God was seen as essential to being Jewish, and as we are aware, there were those, the Scribes and Pharisees who particularly saw it as their role to remind people . . .

But there’s a problem . . .

Many years ago when I would go out to visit a girlfriend, my mother would often call after me ‘be good and if you can’t be good, be careful!’. I must admit, I was a pretty naïve young man – I had No idea what she was talking about. I think I may have finally got it figured out . . .

But here’s the problem – try as we might, Being Good does not come naturally to us. And all the law, the rules do is act as a kind of fence in the mind, meant to keep us in the paddock of the Good, and out of trouble. Keeping the Law does not make you good . . . the Law as St Paul reminds us was like a school teacher, put there to restrain us . . . and this problem persists to this day. You can’t legislate for goodness, and the essence of Goodness is  . . .?

I want to suggest that it is Sharing. Everything that is wrong in the world seems to spring from this. Imagine if you will for a minute a society in which everyone shared whatever they had with those in need. So there would be no homeless for people would share their homes, and no hungry for people would share their food . . . and so on.

Now imagine for a moment that someone came into that society who didn’t share what they had . . . imagine the horror! Imagine again a society in which people looked after No 1. In which the rule was accumulation etc etc. And someone came to live in that society who became known for sharing what they had – that person would be held up as a Saint . . .

I won’t insult your intelligence by asking you to figure out which is the society we live in . . . and this is the reason also for wars – nation states are like people, accumulating more not living for others . . . and so on and so forth, on goes the weary story. Few people share what they have . . . and that I suggest is the essence of Sin.

For when we do not share we cut ourselves off from one another, and God – and that is the meaning of Sin – that which misses the mark – that which fails to connect. Cut off from one another and God we are cut off from Life, the flow of Goodness which is the heartbeat of creation. Just look at creation – how it is all in motion, like a great river. From the tiniest particles, to great galaxies, everything is in a state of flow. Leaves fall from the trees and into the ground where their life is taken up to help feed the birds and  . . . and on and on and on it goes, and then we humans try a stop it!

We try and accumulate. We try and build lives on our own terms – we don’t see how everything we do affects everything and everyone around us. We are blind to our connectedness, to Life itself . . . This is why the scriptures say ‘the wages of sin is death’ – disconnection from what is around us . . . out of tune with creation and one another, for as St Paul reminds us, the Law was powerless to bring life. Only The Living one brings Life

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. He was named Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins . . .

Much at Christmas time we think of those words of our own St John the Evangelist – and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. The Word – the Life Principle of Existence and Reality – in Him was Life, and that Life was the Light of all people. And as St Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, he emptied himself, poured himself out. Life flows.

The Word became flesh, and we think ‘he came to share in our life’, but more, much much more – he Shared his Life with Us. This is the remedy for Sin. It is not that God reconnected to humanity, God in his Covenant promise never disconnected, that was the deeper meaning of circumcision, a sign of God’s faithfulness to the children of Abraham. But our disconnection left us  . . . well dead. Jesus saves us from our sins by connecting us to Life – by pouring out his Life into us. And that Life is flow – it is dynamic – it is participating in all that is, it is not turning our back on those in need, for we realize that there is only one life – the Life of God which sustains all things, when we disconnect from one another we disconnect from Life.

This is the Good News the angels proclaimed – it came as Light in the darkness of the World, it comes as Light and Life to us.

So as we step into a New Year, let us also continue to live more deeply into the Life of God. Let the same mind be amongst us as was in Jesus Christ – the Living one, pouring himself out as the Revelation of The Life of God, the Light in the Darkness in this Sin weary world


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