Feast of the Holy Name
Jesus was Jewish.
And Luke tells us that on the eighth day of his life, Jesus was circumcised, as were—as are—virtually all Jewish baby boys; on the eighth day of his life, Jesus was brought into the covenant God made with Abraham. My imagining of this moment in Jesus’s life is always anachronistic—bagels and lox, joyous friends snapping photos on their phones— looking more like the brises I’ve attended than anything that would have happened in first century Palestine. I imagine Mary handing that tiny child over to trusted friends or family—maybe Zechariah and Elizabeth—who in turn would carry him gently over to the mohel, who performs the rite. I imagine Jesus placed on the seat left empty for Elijah, the one for whom he would later be mistaken, the one who would appear with him at the Transfiguration. And I imagine, after the circumcision itself, the mohel dipping his pinky into wine and then placing it on Jesus’s tongue, as the child is blessed and given his name.
The 1979 Prayer Book calls today, January 1 (that is, the eighth day after Christmas) the Feast of the Holy Name, but in every previous prayer book it was known as the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord. I don’t know why the change—I suspect our contemporary squeamishness (“Foreskin? Jesus’s foreskin?! Heavens, no!”) is a big part—but I kinda wish we’d stuck with the old name. Our daily office readings still point us in that direction—we hear the story of God making the covenant with Abraham that made circumcision a thing, and then we hear St. Paul, himself an uber-observant Jew—making the connection between circumcision and baptism, sign and sealing of God’s covenants with God’s people.
But whatever we call it, I love this feast day. I love how very incarnational it is: flesh and blood at its center, and very intimate flesh and blood at that. In the Middle Ages, folks emphasized that Jesus’s circumcision marks the first time his precious blood is spilled, a foretaste of the cross to come. I love that it puts Jesus’s Jewishness—his own religion, his own community’s relationship with God—I love how that’s put front and center, and reminds us of just how far back this story of God’s love for God’s people really stretches. Even the one who is God’s Word made flesh—the one who would open this very covenant to all people—even he, even that flesh, is marked by God’s promise. I love that this feast reminds us of that the practice of our faith is not just intellectual, or moral—not abstract—but requires bodies, flesh, matter: body and blood; bread and wine; water and oil; eat and drink; sit, stand, kneel. And I love the resonance of the eighth day (but for more about that, come celebrate this feast with us today at noon in the chapel at Holy Trinity).
And, of course, I love that it lends itself to the best liturgical pun of the year: Merry Brismas! On this eighth day, let’s keep the feast, let’s give thanks still for the fullness of the Word made flesh, dwelt among us, holy body and holy blood, sign of God’s love for us, broken and spilled for us, nourishing us still.
Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.