The Circumcision of Jesus | New Year’s Day
Happy New Year! Did you stay up for the fireworks and then party through to the wee hours of the morning? Or did you head to bed early to watch the sun rise? It is surprising that what might be the world’s most widely celebrated public holiday also coincides with one of the most obscure feasts on the Christian calendar: the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus. Partly this is because of a quirk; until 1752 in the English-speaking world New Year’s Day was widely observed on March 25, coinciding with the feast of the Annunciation. Yet today is the eighth day after the birth of Mary’s child, the day on which Jesus was named and circumcised according to Luke.
Christ’s circumcision has been seen by theologians such as Calvin and Barth as a proleptic sign foreshadowing his death. At the very least it was part of Jesus Christ, the true Israel, the true adam, participating in our humanity for the sake of our salvation. As Paul writes: ”For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.’
In moving the New Year from Annunciation to Circumcision, Christmas became a festival spanning two calendars. The result was that years now end as they start: a celebration of the one named Jesus, who saves his people from their sins (Matthew 1.21). As you celebrate today, remember that it is this one who’s name is written over the year ahead.