It’s January 1st, and you know what that means… it’s the eighth day of Christmas, when our Lord Jesus got circumcised! Happy Feast of the Circumcision, everybody! Let’s turn to the Bible:
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Yeah, I’m not kidding.
The handling of this holy day in the 2019 Prayer Book is actually one of the last-minute changes that have proved a pleasant surprise for me to discover. Last year, as I described it here, the draft texts suggested that this would be the feast of the Holy Name and Circumcision, but in the actual book the order has been switched to Circumcision first, Holy Name second. This represents a rare recovery of old tradition that had been largely lost in the course of modernist revision. The 1979 Prayer Book replaced the Circumcision with the Holy Name. Even the Roman Catholics replaced the Circumcision, in their case with a solemnity of Mary, because apparently they didn’t have enough Marian feasts already, I guess?
If you’re new to the concept of this holy day, or to the idea of circumcision in general, consider checking out this write-up I made two years ago. Some of its liturgical references are out of date, or non-applicable to the 2019 Prayer Book, but that’s alright, the information is still useful, and Scripture is still Scripture.
So how do we go about celebrating the circumcision of Christ according to the 2019 book? Let’s start with the Collect of the Day, which should be read last night (Evening Prayer on December 31st) at at Morning Prayer, the Communion service, and Evening Prayer today.
Almighty God, your blessed Son fulfilled the covenant of circumcision for our sake, and was given the Name that is above every name: Give us grace faithfully to bear his Name, and to worship him with pure hearts according to the New Covenant; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The daily office, sadly, only give us one special reading for this day, where the historic prayer books always had more. It’s Luke 2:8-21, which is simply the post-birth narrative of Jesus, leading up to his circumcision and naming in verse 21. This serves as the Gospel lesson at the Communion service as well. If you follow this customary’s midday prayer supplemental lectionary then you’ll get back one of the historic readings for this feast day, Genesis 17:9-end, in which Abraham first receives the covenant of circumcision from God.
Turning to the Communion lessons, we’ve got Exodus 34:1-9, Psalm 8, Romans 1:1-7, and Luke 2:15-21. The Gospel is a shorter version of the Evening Prayer lesson already mentioned. The reading from Exodus 34 tells of the re-establishment of the covenant with Moses during which God declares one form of his name: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Psalm 8 responds with a celebration of how majestic God’s Name is, and Romans 1 opens a striking christological statement. The line about “the obedience of faith” is a key tie-in with the Old Covenant concept of circumcision, and the call to “belong to Jesus Christ” is a pointer to the New Covenant.
Something that is, perhaps, a missed opportunity, is the Epistle lesson appointed for this day in the classic prayer books, before 1962. It was Romans 4:8-14, which deals more directly with the question of circumcision and its relation to the justification offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you have time today, I encourage you to look at the articles and pages linked to in this entry, as they will help you explore and discern the richness of this ‘unlikely’ holiday.