‘On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus’. Luke 2:21
Brothers and sisters, New Year’s Day is the day of resolutions, of taking an honest look at ourselves, and putting in place laws or rules which we strive to keep in order to improve our lives. These new year resolutions can be a good idea especially if you resolve to love people in more concrete ways, to pray for people & for yourself more often, to attend church with more frequency, to spend more time in the Scriptures, or to take a retreat or a pilgrimage in the next few months. Resolutions which focus on improving your walk with God and your relationship with other people, are a great way to begin the new year. Make those resolutions specific, make them concrete. However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the vast majority of resolutions are not kept! Despite our zeal at the beginning, despite our good intentions, most resolutions, by the vast majority of us, are broken by the end of the first month. There is something about the human condition which means that rules tend to get broken; that we find reasons to bend them until we find we’re way over the line. Yes, resolutions are good but we’re no good at keeping them.
On January the first every year the Church has us focus on the circumcision and naming of Christ. Chronologically speaking this makes sense for as you see it follows directly on at the end of the nativity story and circumcision was a sign given by God to take place on the eighth day after birth, and New Year’s Day marks the eighth day after we celebrated Jesus’ birth. ‘On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived’ (Luke 2:21). Circumcision was a sign of God’s people which went all the way back to the calling of Abraham, some fifteen hundred years before Jesus. Male circumcision marked out those who followed the God of Abraham and bound them into a special relationship with Him. It was one resolution, one rule, which was generally kept by the Jewish people from that moment onwards. It marked the child out, and communicated to him—and all those around him—that he belonged to God. After the death and resurrection of Jesus—an event so profound that it changed the rules forever—circumcision was replaced as the sign of belonging to God with the sacrament of baptism. This, too, used to take place on the eighth day of life but has long since slipped to more convenient moments. Baptism marks out a child as a member of God’s family, and speaks loudly that their family hopes and prays that their baby will grow up to follow Jesus; and it takes a family to help someone, of whatever age, to follow Jesus. The biological family is important, especially for those baptised as babies, however, those biological families also need help and support which is where godparents and the family of the Church comes in. None of us can grow as Christians on our own. ALL of us need help. In fact, there is an idea for our new year’s resolutions: how can we as individuals, how can we as parents and grandparents, how can we as godparents, and how can we as a church help strengthen the families all around us, and encourage each member to better follow the Lord? How about a resolution to set aside five minutes each day to gather as a family, to put away our phones, turn off our TVs, light a candle, and say ‘thank you' prayers for all God has given us? Wider than the biological family, how about older Christians make the effort to invite younger members of the church family—and especially Christians who are single adults—over periodically for meals? That is just a couple of ideas, I’m sure you’ll have your own to focus on strengthening families in faith and helping them keep the promises made at baptism. What resolution could you make along those lines this year? However, once again we must recognise that many of those baptised do not grow up to follow Jesus, this resolution also too often gets broken, despite the prayers of many parents and godparents. Once again we see that truth, that human beings seem good at making, but very poor at keeping, resolutions; even when they relate to something as critical as following Christ. The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ speaks into this very situation.
For many, this time of year is also a time of football matches and as we hit the half way point of the season, many start to work out how their team is doing. After a busy season there will be many tired legs, and at this point, I’m sure, there will be some players who are pleased that the beautiful game allows for substitutes. If one player isn’t performing another can come on and take his place. There is also, spiritually speaking, a need for a substitute. As we reflect on our lives in order to make our resolutions, the older we get the more we realise we haven’t lived a perfect life. If we’re to meet the high standard, the level of perfection needed to enter heaven, we should realise that our only chance is a substitute; and that is why Jesus came, a baby, a man, our God, on a mission. A mission we can see the beginning of just eight days after His birth. Our Lord is perfect, the only perfect person who has ever existed, never turning away from God, even once. If there was ever a person who didn’t need God’s law to guide Him it was Jesus Christ, and yet here, today, in this reading, Jesus follows the Law, with the help of His family, meticulously. That’s one reason why Christmas is such good news, for Jesus keeps the Law perfectly. He is the perfect and only substitute, because He always obeyed God’s Law. However, Jesus’ circumcision is more than just keeping the Law; Jesus’ circumcision also points to His cross. Without focusing on the details, let’s just say that here is the first time Jesus’ blood is spilt, here is the first time He bleeds in obedience to God, and so this act ought to remind us, and point us forward to the cross. On the cross—which His circumcision points us towards—Jesus is substituted for us, He takes our place, bleeds in our stead, and dies our death, so that we might make it to heaven. When we trust in God—and are baptised into the Church—we are joined with Christ so closely that His perfect life becomes ours. We may have, as it were, many red and yellow cards against our name, but Jesus ensures that all those who are on His team receive the winner’s medal. That is why He came! That is why He was born in the stable! And that is why—from the outset—He was determined—with the help of His family—to live the perfect life, be marked with the sign of circumcision, and bleed that we might go free. That is why He was given the Name ‘Jesus’, for as we are told, He will save His people from their sins. Jesus came as the obedient Son for all of us disobedient sons and daughters who can’t even keep our own resolutions, let alone God’s. There is a reason to keep celebrating Christmas alone, and there is a reason to celebrate and remember His circumcision; that even at just eight days old, He was already on with His mission to save the world.
On this New Year’s Day I commend to you the making, and with God’s help the keeping of resolutions, but let me also remind you that all of us will fall short. As we do, let us not be too dismayed! We do not get to heaven by keeping our resolutions and rules, but by trusting in Jesus and being baptised in His name—the One who perfectly kept the rules and bled not just at His circumcision but also on the cross—so imperfect people, just like us, may one day go to heaven. Let us firmly resolve to follow Jesus more faithfully this year, remembering that when we fall—and fall we shall—He picks us up brushes us off, and points us to His cross. Jesus’ circumcision was just the beginning, but a beginning showing a very clear purpose, and we rightly remember and celebrate it on this day as we make our New Years resolution. Amen. (from Fr Mike).