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|The Circumcision of Christ|
|Written by Jason Patterson|
|Monday, 31 December 2012 11:00|
Almighty God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle: Romans 4. 8-14 The Gospel: St Luke 2.15-21
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote this Collect for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. He based it not upon the Collect in the Sarum Missal, but upon the benediction appointed for the Octave of the Nativity (the 8th day of Christmas), as found in the Gregorian Sacramentary which reads: Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son on this day received bodily circumcision, lest He should break the law which He came to fulfil, purify your minds by spiritual circumcision from every allurement of vice, and pour into you his own blessing. Amen.
Comment on the Collect
Almighty God. The Collect is addressed to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by adoption and grace is also our Father.
Who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised. As a Jewish infant boy, Jesus (through the action of his parents) obeyed the command of the God of Moses and was circumcised. By this act he began his submission to the law of God, which he would keep until he hung on the cross 30 years later.
Jesus’ circumcision was both physical and symbolic. Physically, he shed the first drop of his blood as the second Adam, the representative of Man for the human race and thereby took part in the sign and seal required by the God of Abraham which points first to the covenant which God in his sovereign mercy had made with Abraham (see Genesis 17). Secondly, in a derivative sense, it points to the human response to God which is required by the covenant. (Only the male is involved because he is considered to be the head of the family and thus the women of his family are covenant members because of their relation to him.)
The apostle Paul, himself circumcised as a Jew, had long pondered the theological meaning and purpose of circumcision – as his frequent references to it demonstrate. What St. Paul writes in Colossians 2:10-15 is the result of his profound meditation upon the relation of circumcision to: Christ, his cross, the Church, baptism and salvation from sin. In that passage, Paul describes Jesus as undergoing a unique form of circumcision, performed by God his Father on the cross at Calvary. Of Jesus Paul writes: “He disarmed/stripped off (in Greek apekdusamenos) the principalities and powers.” This cutting off or stripping off is the act of offering up his weak human body in physical death – the stripping off and the divesting himself of the spiritual, demonic powers of evil with which he had been at war and which were clinging to him, thinking that, in this final battle to death, they were the victors. However, says Paul, at the very moment when they seemed to have totally triumphed, they are cast off by Jesus and made into captives and conquered rebels, as he is raised from the dead triumphant over them. This is cosmic circumcision undergone on the hill, Golgotha, outside the city walls of Jerusalem. As a result the evil powers become subservient to the victorious Lord, who is raised from the dead in his new glorious new body and crowned King of kings.
And obedient to the law for man. Circumcision was the entrance into the covenant of the law and to receive it implied taking on the whole obligation of the law (Genesis 17:12). Thus, to quote St. Paul: when Jesus was circumcised he was “made under the law,” for “every man who is circumcised is a debtor to keep the whole Law” (Galatians 4:4, 5:3).
It was the Father’s will that his incarnate Son should, as one born of a woman and under the law, submit to and keep that law. Thus “when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus” (Luke 2:21). Jesus did not submit to the law for his own sake, but for ours in order to fulfill in our place our debt to the whole law of God, both ceremonial and moral. He was born to be our representative and substitute, whether we be Jew or Gentile.
It was common and good in the past – though neglected today – to speak of Jesus, in his vocation as the Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the whole world, as being involved in two necessary aspects of obedience to God his Father through the law. One is active obedience – his daily commitment to obey God through the law in thought, word and action; and this he did willingly and wholly to the moment that he expired on the cross. The other is passive obedience (from pascho, to suffer) – his passion, his suffering as the innocent for the guilty, his bearing pain and punishment as the substitute and representative on behalf of his people (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Both of these important aspects are signified in the act of circumcision – the first shedding of his precious blood points to his passive obedience when he shed his blood in the atonement at the cross of Calvary, 30 or so years later at the close of his messianic ministry.
Thus the Circumcision is a proclamation of Jesus as: “The Lord our salvation” and “Immanuel, God with us.” The incarnate Son of the Father took to himself from his Blessed Mother Mary our human nature so as to be our Saviour from within human nature. As we see the utter importance for our salvation of both Jesus’ incarnation and his circumcision we will not be at all surprised to find these two great acts of salvation united together in the pleadings of the Litany: “By thy holy Nativity and Circumcision . . . Good Lord, deliver us.”
Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit. In light of this crucial doctrine about the incarnation, circumcision and obedience of Christ Jesus, we earnestly petition God for an internal gift of grace – the true circumcision of the Spirit. Not the old circumcision of the flesh but “circumcision of the heart, in the spirit” (Romans 2:28-29).
That, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will. Now, in the Aspiration, we express the purpose for which we are making our Petition. We are asking for the action of the Holy Spirit upon our spirits, so that energized by heavenly power we shall be enabled to cut away all sinful desires from our hearts and to put them to death (see Colossians 3:15). For it is only when the power of evil desires and habits is dispelled from the various faculties and recesses of the soul, that we are able seriously to obey the will of God in the name of his blessed Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Paul tells the baptized believers in the Colossian church that they have been circumcised through their union with the circumcised Christ on the cross, by faith and with the Holy Spirit. In union with him, they participate in his circumcision and his victory over evil powers, and this is what was declared in word, symbol and spiritual power in their baptism. That is, they experienced “a circumcision made without hands,” (Colossians 2:11), a work of God the Holy Spirit, in and upon their souls and hearts.
Having been spiritually circumcised we are able to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God (Romans 12:1). Hands – cleansed and ready to work on God’s assignments; feet – washed and ready to run his errands of mercy and love; eyes – purified from lust, ready to meditate upon and contemplate God’s works and words; ears – cleansed of flattery and enticement, ready to hear the voice of God and the cry of the needy; the tongue – mortified of evil speech and idle words, ready to praise the Lord – in all a living sacrifice of praise to the glory of the Father.
As we keep this holy feast day and humbly meditate upon the great significance of Jesus’ circumcision for the sake of sinners, let us faithfully use this Collect to the salvation of our souls and the redemption of our bodies, asking God to circumcise our hearts and all our faculties – cutting away from them all sinfulness and causing them to be sanctified so that we may gladly do his will. This is surely an excellent prayer with which to begin the New (secular) Year on January 1st.
- Peter Toon (with J. S. S. Patterson)
 The Collect’s reference to circumcision as a spiritual act is based upon St. Paul’s teaching: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter [Law]; whose praise is not of man but of God” (Romans 2:28-29).
|Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2012 11:03|