The Circumcision of Christ

MP3 Audio:  WS330325_Dn-Joseph_Circumcision-of-Jesus.mp3

This homily was preached on Wednesday morning, January 1, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


Gospel Reading:  Luke 2:15-21

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.

Circumcision. Is that the first thing that comes to mind when you think the Christian faith, and of celebrating your salvation? Today is the feast of the Circumcision. It is one of the feasts in the Church that is viewed as a day of Holy obligation, a day that we are supposed to come together–whatever day of the week it may be–on January 1st, the eighth day after Christmas, where we celebrate the circumcising and the naming of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now let’s rewind to when circumcision was instituted by God with Abraham. When it was first instituted, it was made as a covenant between God and Abraham, a covenant pointing forth to salvation, pointing out that Abraham and all who are his descendants would belong to the Lord God. But it was never just about DNA, it was never just about having blood relations with Abraham. In fact, you go all the way back to Genesis 17 when it was first instituted. Issac hasn’t even been born yet. You have Abraham. You have his son by Hagar, who is Ishmael. Then you have several hundred servants. Well, these servants are not relatives necessarily, these are workers. These are people that we would view as Gentiles. And yet, all these servants of Abraham are circumcised as well. They are brought into this same covenant of God.

Now, many religions have different rites of initiation, ways that you are brought into the religion. I wonder if Abraham and his servants were surprised by this one. Many, many jokes have been told about Abraham coming back after this vision from God, talking to all of his employees and saying,

“Well, I spoke to God”.

“You spoke to the Lord? The Lord talked directly to you”?

“Yep. And you’re never gonna believe what He wants us to do . . .”

It’s a little embarrassing! And if you think it’s embarrassing hearing about it, just imagine what it’s like for me every year. January 1st comes around, and I have to preach on the Circumcision of Jesus Christ. But God has great wisdom. He doesn’t plan the liturgy of the Church, He doesn’t plan the worship of His Son, based around our squeamishness, based around our cultural taboos. He has wisdom in what He does. And I want you to think about what it might have been for Abraham. God institutes this circumcision rite. Abraham goes through it. And then for the rest of his life he is marked. He has this scar in this very sensitive place. And what time is in his life is he going to be reminded of this covenant that he has with God?

Well, it’s easy to be reminded of your covenant with God when you come to worship. It’s easy for you to remember that you are a christian when you come into these walls, and there is a cross up here, and there’s Jesus, and there’s candles, and there is incense, and there’s music, and you’re singing. It’s easy to think about being a christian in those kind of situations.

But God gives him the rite of circumcision. And God makes a promise, saying, “I will be a God unto you and unto your children and unto your children’s children. Your descendants will number more than the grains of sand in the desert, more than the stars that you can see in the sky. If you can count the stars in the sky, then you’ll be able to number your descendants.” What a promise!

So think about it. Not when Abraham is praying, not when he is worshiping, but Abraham goes to have intimacy with his wife in the privacy of their tent. And in this intimate moment of pleasure, he sees the sign of the covenant between him and God. And God says, “Yes, even here I am God, and you belong to me.”

Abraham goes to sleep at night and he wakes about two or three in the morning. Mother nature calls, and he has to run outside the tent. He’s got to pee! So he’s stumbling out, he’s waking up, and he looks down and starts peeing out there in the desert sand, and he’s looking at the sign of the covenant. And he sees the sand while he’s looking down, and he remembers Gods promise. “If you can count all these grains of sand in the desert, then you will be able to count your descendants.” He leans back and he looks up at the sky, and he sees the stars, and he remembers Gods promise. “If you can number all the stars, you’re going to be able to number your descendants.”

He can’t get away from it. He can’t get away from the promise whether he looks up, or whether he looks down, whether he’s in intimacy with his wife, or whether he’s outside the tent at night taking a leak. From the most intimate, pleasurable times of his life, the most private times, to the most banal, mundane, even disgusting times of his life, God is there. And the covenant is there.

And God is saying, “I am your God, and you belong to me. There is not one child that you will sire, in which you will not have a visible memory of this covenant that I have with you and with your children, and with your children’s children, even unto a thousand generations.”

Now, there’s a lot of religions out there that will try to lift up your spirits and make you feel better. There are a lot of religions out there that will try to give you a mountaintop experience. There are a lot religions that will try to get you meditating on the high and lofty spiritual things, and get your head up in the clouds.

If you ever come back to earth, just try the Christian religion. Just open up your Bible to the book of Leviticus. You don’t even need the commentators; just read your Bible. And you’re going to read in God’s Word about bloody sores, and dandruff, and leprosy, and copulation, and menstruation, and every other absolutely earthy, gross, disgusting thing you can think of. And God is talking about it, and He’s making you focus on it. And you’re reading about his stuff, and He says, “I’m God, even when you’re in the middle of these things!”

Now, let’s bring it out of the ancient middle east, and bring it right here today. You know that the Bible says to pray without ceasing. But in your day-to-day life, do you really think that means in the bathroom? You really think that means in the shower? “Yeah, I’m supposed to worship Jesus all day every day, but you mean even when I close the door to my bedroom and it’s just me and my wife? God is there too? He is really omnipresent? Everywhere?” Yes!

Whether you have your clothes on or not, whether you are doing something high and lofty or something that you are too embarrassed to even talk about, God is there.

And circumcision meant even more than that. You see it as the cutting away, a bloody cutting away of the flesh. It’s painful, even a little dangerous. And that signifies exactly what needs to happen to our sinful flesh, our carnal desires, our passions, any part of us that wants to take physical pleasure and place it on a higher importance than spiritual things, and our relationship with God and with each other.

You see, the body wants to rule over the spirit, and tell you to seek your meaning–your pleasure–in sex, in drugs that give you these exhilarating feelings, and not just enough food to keep you alive, but more food and more food and more food as entertainment.

Our flesh wants to push us to use our eyes and our ears for those things that make us feel good right now, not for those disciplines which build up spiritual strength and stamina and love for our brothers and sisters, prayer even when we don’t feel like, going to church to worship even when we don’t feel like it. Flesh, the fallen flesh that we’ve inherited from our father Adam, doesn’t like that.

Our body is not evil. Skin itself is not evil. But there is that carnal principle, that fallen principle, those effects of that sin that was committed in the garden that we do inherit. We inherit corruption from Adam, and from his sin that he committed in the garden of Eden.

And in circumcision, God is saying, “I don’t just want to circumcise your body, I want to circumcise your heart,” just as we read out of Deuteronomy 30 today. “I want to circumcise your heart. I want to take anything that’s fleshly and carnal that’s trying to exalt itself above the things of God, and I want to cut it out.” And remember what it says in Scripture, that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.

Now the second Person of the Trinity–the Word made flesh–for Himself personally, He had no need of circumcision. He Himself had no sin. He had no wicked, carnal principle that was pushing him internally to exalt the things of the flesh over the things of God. Far from it! He is God. And yet, willingly, He was born under the law, under the Mosaic law that said that every child needed to be circumcised on the eighth day. And He willingly went even as an innocent child to this surgery that He did not deserve, to have His flesh torn and to have His blood shed so that He could identify Himself with His people and enter into our suffering, and enter into our struggle to get rid of sin.

You see, this circumcision of Christ was a prophesy of the Cross. You have the innocent made wounded and bloody for the salvation of the world.

Today, God decided that if He was going to expand His religion past the middle east into the entire world, that it might be better to go from circumcision to baptism. It’s a little bit easier for people to handle on their trip into the Church. But the meaning is the same. Baptism is circumcision; circumcision is baptism. They mean the same thing. You see, with circumcision you have this sign of death, this cutting away, this bleeding, this dying, but also this cleansing from sin, this putting off of the old man and this putting on of the new man.

It works the same way in baptism. When you go under the water and the triple immersion in the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, when you go under the water your old man dies. You are put to death. You are drowned in the baptismal flood that drowned the whole world except for Noah and his family. And your sin is left there. Then when you rise, when you come back up, you come up just like Christ came out of the water. You come up pure. You come up an appropriate vessel for the Holy Spirit. You come up identified as one of the people of God.

Now, while the sign may have changed–we went from this sign of circumcision to this sacrament of baptism–while that may have changed, the meaning remains the same. And the challenge, the requirement from God, remains the same. When you were baptized into the Church in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you were not baptized so that you can have some mountaintop experiences here and there, whenever you feel like you need them. You are not baptized into a Church that is here to make you feel better from time to time. No, you were baptized into the people of God. God brings His blessings and His requirements on you, and your children, and your children’s children. Forever.

And He is not just there with you in church, He is not just there with you when you pray. He is there with you in the bathroom. He is there with you in the bedroom. He is there with you in the kitchen. He is there with you in the garden. If you are out killing and butchering a deer, or rabbits or chickens, if you are having an embarrassing “time of the month” that everybody is disgusted to even mention, if you are in a hospital bed so weak and so sick you can’t even get up and go to a worship service, if you are driving in your car, if you are at the office, if you are all by yourself just looking at the computer screen, deciding what you are going to go look at next, whether good or evil, everywhere you go, God is there with you. And God is saying, “Yes, I am God now. I am God here. I am Lord of your life in this place too.” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, without any exceptions whatsoever, God is there. And God is calling you to live your life, every aspect of your life, in holiness and in consecration to Him.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.


This homily was preached on Wednesday morning, January 1, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
Video | This entry was posted in 2014 Homilies, Deuteronomy 30:6, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Hebrews 9:22, Luke 2:15-21, Orthodox Homilies, The Circumcision of Jesus. Bookmark the permalink.

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