Christ is born! Glorify Him!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One thing stands out in the Sacred Scriptures regarding this Jesus and His family: they are obedient to the Law of God because it is the Law of God and they serve in all faithfulness and humility the God of the Law. On the eighth day, according to the Law (Lv. 12:3), they have the divinely conceived Child circumcised – the ancient sign and seal that He is a Son of Abraham who was first given circumcision as a witness by God – thus making Him a true Israelite (Gn. 17:1-14), an heir of the Covenant of God. Likewise, on the fortieth day following His Birth, “’when the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were accomplished,” we find the Most Holy Theotokos fulfilling the Law (Lk. 2:22-24). On this same day of His circumcision, according to the same divine Law, the Child received His Name. And they named Him, Jesus, after the word of the angel who declared that this Jesus would save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21; Lk. 1:31).
Thus, circumcision under the Law, was administered solely to Hebrew males on the eighth day of their birth, and it came to be associated in Sacred Scripture with godliness, piety, purity, and faithfulness to the Law of God while uncircumcision was to be godless and impious, an aspersion cast on the enemies of Israel, like the young shepherd boy, David, who demanded to know (speaking of the giant, Goliath) who this “uncircumcised” Philistine was who dared to defy the armies of the living God (1 Kg. [1 Sm.] 17:26, 36). It is David who says to the uncircumcised Philistine, “’Thou comest to me with a sword and with a spear and with a shield; but I come to thee in the Name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, Whom thou hast defied’” (1 Kg. [1 Sm.] 17:45). And they called His Name, Jesus, for He, as Emmanuel – God with us – shall save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:23).
This theme of fulfilling the Law of the Covenant, of “’[fulfilling] all righteousness,’” as our Lord says to the Baptizer (Mt. 3:15), giving John His blessing to baptize Him, is found in the Gospels. St. Matthew likes to stress how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He submits Himself in obedience to the very Law He gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai as the divine Lawgiver. He does not eschew the Law of the Covenant but rather He fulfills it, fleshes it out in His perfect submission. In His Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is imaged by the Evangelist as the new Moses, the new Lawgiver, He is careful to tell us,
‘Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till Heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall in anywise pass from the Law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Mt. 5:17-19).
And, let us not forget what our Lord says to His Disciples in His Great Commission, just before He ascends into the heavens. He said, “’All power is given unto Me in Heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them . . , teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’” (Mt. 28:18). Jesus taught the Law of God, but with greater, deeper, and fuller understanding. Again, we find this in His Sermon on the Mount, which is the old Law with a new comprehension, a Gospel twist, if you will. “’Ye have heard that it was said by them of old, “Thou shall not kill,” . . . But I say unto you, . . . .,’” a formula He repeats a number of times, and each time subsuming and exceeding the Law in its greatness (Mt. 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). Why? Because as He said to His Disciples there on the Mount, the new Sinai, if you will, “’that unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven’” (Mt. 5:20). Our Lord, Emmanuel, comes to fulfill His Law, and then He returns it to us new and improved, if you will, infused with the wine of His saving and sanctifying grace.
One of the things our Lord demonstrates to us is that the Law of God remains good and holy, just as St. Paul tells us in his Epistles (Rm. 7:12; 1 Tm. 1:8). Its moral principles remain in effect to guide us and, at times, to accuse so that we will repent and turn to the Saviour of our souls. The Law points us to Jesus Christ (Ga. 3:19-25). The Law provides us a framework in order to live the Gospel of faith, hope, and love. The Lord has shown us what is good (Mc. 6:8). The Law, however, does not have the power to save us from sin, death, and the devil. If it did, there would have been no need for the Cross and Resurrection. But, as it is, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Ga. 4:4-5). The Law could not make any of us the adopted sons of God. Only the Son of God Himself could do that through His Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, sending of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit, and Ascension to the right hand of the Father. God condescends so that man, in Christ God, might ascend with Him (Co. 3:1-3)!
Circumcision, now fulfilled in Jesus Christ, passes to the Mystery of Baptism, according to St. Paul in our Epistle today (Co. 2:8-12). It is “the circumcision made without hands.” It is the circumcision of our hearts from all that prevents us from loving God and each other (Dt. 10:16). It is dying with Jesus Christ, sharing in His true death, and then rising in the power of His Resurrection to shed the old corrupt life of sin and death that we are wrapped up in (Rm. 6:1-23). It is the putting off, Paul says, of our body of sins. How do we do that? By the very grace of God present to us and in us by the Holy Spirit. In other words, we cooperate with the grace of God and we attract His grace to us as we seek in His power to put to death or to mortify our flesh so that our passions are deprived of the high ground in our spiritual battle with sin in our lives. This is absolutely essential if we are to be saved.
Our Lord, according to St. Luke and St. Paul, humbled Himself and learned obedience (Pp. 2:5-11). Though God in the flesh, though He was the Creator of both St. Joseph and His most pure Mother, Jesus nonetheless learned obedience as their Son. The Holy Gospel today says that Jesus went with His parents back to their home in Nazareth “and was subject to them.” It is here the Evangelist says that the Son of God “increased . . ., in favor with God and man.” Through humility and obedience our Lord manifested the wisdom of God. He shows us the way, the truth, and the life because He Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn. 14:6). “[T]hough He was a Son,” says St. Paul, “yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered,” thus becoming our Great High Priest and “the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hb. 5:8-10). We, too, like our Lord Whose Death and Resurrection we wear in Baptism, must learn obedience as adopted sons of God. Here, brethren, is the living out of the Commandment of the Law, “’Honor thy father and thy mother’” (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16). This applies equally so to the honoring of our heavenly Father by making His Word ours, fleshing it out in our lives as we seek to love Him above all else (Mt. 6:33). This means we put to death the passions dwelling in us by mortifying our bodies through fasting and prayer and almsgiving, allowing no place for sin to take root in us or to abide in us, or to make its home in our souls, in our hearts, and in our minds (Rm. 13:14).
Speaking to this mortification, a saint of the Roman Church, Sr. Faustina of the Divine Mercy, offers some pretty cogent insights. She suggests that it’s not the mortification of the flesh that gains us salvation or sanctification. It is rather our obedience to the Lord that He seeks, to go out of ourselves to do as He commands. Sr. Faustina, a monastic, was once asked by the Lord to do a certain mortification. As an obedient daughter of the Church (again fulfilling the commandment to honor father and mother, in this case holy Mother Church), she approached the Abbess of her monastery for her blessing to proceed, but was denied her request. What the disappointed nun discovered or learned from this testing was that the Lord was not as interested in her mortification as He was in her doing what was asked of her, to demonstrate her willingness to hear and obey. Our obedience of faith gives God great glory and it aids us in our salvation. Indeed, we give God “greater glory by a single act of obedience than by long prayers and mortifications” (St. Faustina of the Divine Mercy).
Let us, beloved, circumcise our hearts, mortify our flesh, and put off our sins and our passions. But, moreso, let us humble ourselves and learn obedience in this new year, and, by a single act of loving obedience on our part – the obedience of faith (Rm. 1:5; 16:26) – offer God greater glory as His sons and His daughters.
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Lk. 2:20-21, 40-52