Posted on January 1st, 2017
In six days God made the world, and on the seventh, He rested, for everything that He had made was very good.
It did not stay good for long. The man God made fell. He returned to the earth from which He was formed. All those who followed were afflicted with the same congenital condition – mortality. Incurable. Inescapable. Terrifying. Liquor and licentiousness, the building of cities and then their destruction by warfare, tyranny and anarchy, the acquisition of possessions and the achievement of fame or infamy – nothing could satisfy the longing man had for life. Still he died – generation upon generation.
What was needed was not a greater effort, a new discovery, or a refined philosophy. What was needed was a new beginning, a Genesis-all-over-again, an action by God to re-form, refashion man once again in His image and likeness, so sullied by the Fall. What was needed was an eighth day, a renewal of God’s creative work. Only an eighth day, a gracious visitation to the creation by the Creator, could remedy what had been so hellishly ruined by man.
As a sign of this coming eighth day, eight people were on the ark, saved through the flood waters. But the chief sign was the covenant of circumcision, commanded to be performed on the eighth day of a boy’s life.
Now such a ritual seems preposterous. What purpose could there possibly be in the cutting of skin on that part of the body too indecent for me to mention in this holy place? How does such a grotesque, and arguably cruel action, serve as a sign of God’s covenant, His promise to mankind?
Circumcision chastens and cleanses, if you will, that part of the body which, in the words of St. Athanasius, “serves as the instrument of corporal regeneration.” As such, it speaks to the corruption now attendant to human birth – namely, that we are born with various flaws and defects, illnesses and syndromes; but more, that humanity shares universally a nature that is corrupt and sinful. “Surely I was sinful from birth,” says the Psalmist, “sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This is why the Scripture says that “All men are liars,” and that “all have gone astray,” and that “every inclination of a man’s heart is only evil all the time,” even “from his youth.” To us, a child appears innocent and pure. But if we could see the human nature for what it is – if we could see the human nature as God sees our nature – we would recognize that it is corrupt and altogether wretched from the beginning. Even a child whose life is just beginning needs a new beginning, a new birth. This is why the Holy Christian Church has always baptized babies, just as the boys under the old covenant were circumcised on the eighth day.
Now, just eight days earlier, these hallowed courts rang out with songs of a “holy Infant,” One born of a pure virgin, not of the blood of a man; One untainted with the guilt of original sin. Why then is our Lord Jesus circumcised on the eighth day? He has no need of it. He does not need the promise given to Abraham – He is that Promise. He does not need to follow the Law given by Abraham’s God – He is Abraham’s God. So why is Jesus circumcised on the eighth day, in accordance with the Law? Already in infancy we see Jesus as our substitute. For this is why Our Lord took on our flesh – to fulfill the Law in our flesh, to suffer for us in the flesh, to redeem us in the flesh. In His circumcision, the sacrifice which culminates in the crucifixion has already begun.
Now at His circumcision, the Child of Mary receives a name – the name of Moses’ successor, Joshua, which goes from Hebrew into Greek as JESUS. Joshua led the children of Israel across the waters of the Jordan into the Land of Promise. Holy Baptism now supplants circumcision, for by it we are led through the waters into the ark of the Church; in that wonderful sacrament we cross the rushing waters to become part of Israel, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Listen to what St. Paul says in Col. 2:
In [Christ] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in Baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
So circumcision as a theological, sacramental rite passes away when Baptism comes, for in Baptism we have not simply a trimming away from the instrument of faulty human generation; but we have regeneration, a new birth bestowed by the Holy Spirit.
And we get the promise made to Abraham’s children that we heard in the first reading: “I will be their God.” Not just a God, but our God, i.e., our protector, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Father, our Rescuer.
And Baptism, like circumcision, is a promise given “in the flesh” – it is concrete, tangible, indicating that the Lord’s promise to you is not merely an emotional high or a sentimental boost, but a promise to care for the very flesh of the fleshly men He created, and redeem it from the grave.
Now of course I mean “men” in the broad sense, encompassing both male and female, all humanity. But see how much greater is the new covenant than the old – for the blessing of Baptism, unlike Circumcision, is given to both male and female, demonstrating that in Christ there “is neither Jew nor Greek, … neither slave nor free, … neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
On you who have been baptized, a new day has dawned. The eighth day has begun. Jesus, circumcised on the eighth day, was transfigured on the eighth day after Peter confessed Him to be the Christ. On the eighth day, that is, the first day of the week, Jesus rose from the dead. Eight days later, He revealed Himself to Thomas, who confessed Jesus to be Lord and God. Every eighth day we gather for the same confession.
He is your Lord. He is your God. He is your Jesus, for He saves you from your sins. He saves you from your death. Already in infancy, He began to shed His blood for you. Will He now abandon you? Will He now leave you in the misery and fear that will be yours in this valley of the shadow of death? No. He who has begun His eighth-day work in you will bring it to completion in the Day of our Lord’s return, when your flesh shall rise from the grave, immortal, free from sin, joyously alive in the kingdom of Christ Jesus, our Lord and our God.
Throughout this new year, call upon the name of Jesus in every circumstance, good and bad. He is your Joshua, and He will bring you to the land of promise. ✠INJ✠