Circumcision of our Lord, Baptism, and a new Covenant. Dr. Daryl Schantz.

Christ is Born – Let us Glorify Him

In her Wisdom the Church has condensed into two weeks Christ’s Nativity and his Baptism, by
St. John the Baptist, in the Jordan river. In the midst of this we have been given another feast of
the church, “the Circumcision of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”

In her Wisdom the Church has condensed into two weeks Christ’s Nativity and his Baptism, by
St. John the Baptist, in the Jordan river. In the midst of this we have been given another feast of
the church, “the Circumcision of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”

A feast around Christ’s circumcision seems out of place to our modern ears. We live in a world
where a person’s medical history is protected in privacy by law and we sometimes feel
awkward asking or talking about a routine medical issue, much less someone’s circumcision. So
we may have a hard time appreciating the value of this feast of the “the Circumcision of our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.

We must remind ourselves that all of our feasts, even our feast of feasts celebrates another
idea that is, on the surface, repulsive. That is, Christ’s death! Another “medical” procedure. In
some way, all of the feasts of Christ must be incarnational and because of this, most can also be
considered medical! His conception, nativity, baptism, entrance into the temple, death and
resurrection, and even His Ascension involve the body! And maybe another interesting idea is
that Christ turns each of these human activities on its head! From conception to death to
ascension, in each one, he shows us how the human person, united with God can see the
fulfillment of these human activities and actions.

All of this is interesting to think about, but I would like to take the time to point out today how
this feast of “the Circumcision of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” might be seen to belong
right where it is.

We are in the middle of a feast where we celebrate the three events of Christ’s incarnation, his
circumcision, and his baptism. The feast of the circumcision demonstrates Christ fulfilling the
Old Covenant. For circumcision was established by God with Abraham as a way for him, and for
those that came after him, to enter into a covenant relationship with God. This is also one of
the ways that we understand baptism; as entering into the new covenant relationship with
Christ’s own body, the church.

It is important to note that circumcision in the old covenant was not important for what it was
accomplishing in the human body, it was important for what it symbolized; what it pointed to.
While circumcision was a way for people (in this case men) to enter into the Old Covenant, it
pointed to something far greater. It pointed to a cutting off those things which stand in our
way; that which keeps us from fullness in our relationship with God. Even in the Old Testament
(in Jeremiah 9), the prophet Jeremiah condemns the Israelites because they were circumcised
in the flesh, but were uncircumcised in the hearts. Why did He say this? It was because they
spoke lies and they didn’t keep the God’s law or listen to his voice, but instead pursued idols
(Jer 9:7,12-13).

In a similar way, baptism is an even more extreme version of cutting off those things which hold
us back. More extreme because in baptism, we die. We die to that which stands in our way (our
old man). St Paul makes this same comparison between circumcision and baptism in Colossians

2:11-12 ( 11  In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands,
by putting off the body  [h] of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  12  buried
with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working
of God, who raised Him from the dead. )

In these feast that we are given, Christ fulfills the law (Matt 5:17) and his circumcision was part
of this fulfillment, but he also demonstrates for us a new way.
As one of the hymns for today says:

You, the Lawgiver, didst place Yourself under the Law.
Others didst Thou enjoin by imposition – Yourself, voluntarily.
That is why, on the eighth day, You were circumcised in the flesh.
In fulfilling the Law, You did replace it with a new one:
Circumcision of the flesh was replaced with a spiritual one,
That we cut of from ourselves impure passions
And gaze upon You with a pure spirit;

That, with the spirit, we cut off and constrict the will of the body
So today we look forward to the feast of Theophany where Christ sanctifies the waters of
baptism and opens for us the New Covenant. We as Orthodox Christians enter into this
covenant, but as we celebrate these feasts, we should not forget that just as the act of
circumcision without circumcision of the heart was not pleasing to God, so baptism without a
life of continually dying to ourselves is also missing the point of holy baptism. We must be
reminded to regularly enter the waters with Christ and immerse ourselves in the act of putting
to death our old man.

May God give us strength by the prayers of our beloved father among the saints, St Basil the
Great to die and come alive again with Christ in holy baptism.

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