Feast of the Holy Name
The Rev'd Charles Everson, SCP
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 1, 2020
Today is a bit of an oddity in terms of liturgical celebrations. First and foremost, it’s the eighth day of Christmas. January 1st has been celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ since at least several centuries before the Reformation, with the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus coming into being in the 15th century as a much lesser commemoration on January 2nd or January 3rd. Also, today, the Church has not forgotten our Blessed Mother as at a very early stage, the Church in Rome celebrated on January 1st a feast that it called the anniversary of the Mother of God. Today, it’s one of the few major feasts in the Western Church where no one seems to be able to agree on anything. The modern Romans call today the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the traditionalist Romans and many of our Anglo-Catholic brethren focus on the Circumcision of Christ, and yet our prayer book has dropped the reference to circumcision altogether in favor of the Holy Name.
In the gospel of Luke, we hear this simple synopsis of what happened on this day: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Today, Jesus was both circumcised and named.
It’s no surprise that those compiling the American prayer book in the 1970’s chose to focus on the naming of Jesus rather than his circumcision. For Americans tend to circumcise their sons at a much higher rate than any other majority Christian country, and yet, we hear from St. Paul that circumcision isn’t required to be a Christian. To give you an example, as of 2007, nearly 82% of American men were circumcised compared with only 3.8% of men in the United Kingdom, and 14% in France (the majority of whom are Muslim). Perhaps the compilers and editors of our Prayer Book were at least subconsciously making a point that circumcision is not a religious rite for Christians.
But it certainly is for the Jews. God established circumcision as a sign of his covenant with Abraham that would mark his descendants as different from the other peoples of the world. In Genesis, we hear, “Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old…So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.” Mary and Joseph were observant Jews, and in keeping with this command from God, they circumcised Jesus on the eighth day of his birth. The literal cutting of the flesh in the rite of circumcision connects Jesus to the covenant people of his time and to his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But today is not only about flesh and blood. Our Lord was given the name “Jesus”, a Greek name that comes to from the Hebrew name that we normally translate as Joshua. It literally means, “The Lord saves.”  In Jesus’s physical body, our eternal salvation has come. In other words, in our gospel passage today, we see the roots of the deep creedal statements that took the Church centuries to develop: we see that God is fully human and fully divine.
The God of the universe became one of us in order to redeem us. Today marks the first time God’s blood was shed, foreshadowing the shedding of his blood at Calvary for the redemption of the world. The days of penitence and waiting during Advent are past. During Christmastide, and especially today, we needn’t focus on our sin, but on our redemption. When we feast at the altar in a few moments, we will see and taste bread and wine, but by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, these elements will have become the body, soul, and divinity of the babe whose name we celebrate today. As we gratefully partake of these most holy gifts, may you and I come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
 Genesis 17:12.
 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 872.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!