The Octave Day of Christmas
(The Circumcision of Christ; New Year’s Day)
A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
Our lessons for this Sunday mark the earliest events in our Lord’s earthly life: the remarkable scene of shepherds’ visit to the stable, and then the Circumcision, which is the formal initiation rite and naming ceremony for Jewish males. For Christ this is a crucial sign of His humility to stand with God’s people under the law of Moses. Christ was to live ‘under’, which is to say, subject to, God’s rule and order of righteousness, so that He might save those who were under the burden of the law’s condemnation. That is why the angel told Joseph the child’s name was to be Jesus, which is translated, ‘God saves.’ In this way, the Christ child fulfills the promise to Abraham, that ‘through his offspring all peoples should inherit a blessing’. The blessing is nothing less than the establishment of a new kingdom, and a new peace, free from the tyranny and endless conflict of our efforts to govern ourselves. The Messiah would establish a new law, not based on the measure of our sin, but on the scale of God’s mercy, and in order to express that mercy, He Himself would accomplish the terms of our judgement established under the law. His suffering would provide our freedom. Therefore, Isaiah says, “…thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” Jesus is ‘the Lord our righteousness’ and again and again He tells the people that our new labour, our new good work, must be to believe on Him—in other words, to trust in His mercy as the ground of our peace. That is the angelic invitation to the shepherds, which although it terrified them, was also strangely compelling. They sensed that this was something new and better than what they had known before, and they ran to discover what it might be. W.H. Auden puts it in a lovely phrase, sung by the shepherds, in his long Christmas poem, ‘For the Time Being’:
Let us run to learn
How to love and run;
Let us run to Love.
Such is the claim of the Christmas story on our attention, and on our lives; it is no fleeting spectacle or passing pleasure, it is the fullness of our time, where we find our joy made full. Let us run to Love, and with Mary, treasure all these things in our hearts.