Homily for 1 January 2012 – Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord and the Feast of St. Basil the Great

Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Psalm 67; Luke 2:16-21

Today, on the Octave of Christmas, we celebrate the Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Also, on this day, in a much older feast, we celebrate the fourth century Bishop and Doctor of the Church St. Basil the Great. In the East this has usually taken precedence over the Feast of the Circumcision. In the West the Feast of the Circumcision and Naming has been moved around, renamed, separated and in general been confused, and the Feast of St. Basil has been moved from the day of his death, Jan. 1, to the day of his consecration as a Bishop, June 14.

We keep them both, on the same day, and just deal with it. St. Basil is famous for his defense of the true faith in upholding the use of the word “consubstantial” in the Nicene Creed. This is relevant to the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, because Jesus is Consubstantial (of the same substance) with the Father, and with us. In his Divine and Human Person he fulfills the demands of the Law and the Old Covenant, and IS the New Covenant – the Covenant of Love and Grace and Communion with God and one another.

In our Second Lesson, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Church at Galatia, we read, “When the designated time had come, God sent forth his Son born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it, so that we might receive our status as adopted children.” Jesus was born under the Law so that we might be free from its burden, that we might live in grace and truth and liberty. The Way to the Kingdom of God is open, in Christ we are saved from our sins and foolishness, we are free from the determinants of time, place and circumstance, we are enabled to become what we are created to be, friends, companions and children of God. But, (there is always a “but” isn’t there?) it doesn’t happen by itself. To be free, we must choose to be free, we must put off our old mind, old habits, thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, and put on Christ. We have help in doing this through the grace of our Baptism and Chrismation in which we were joined to the Body of Christ and received the Holy Spirit and in the constant feeding of the Eucharist, and in the steady fellowship and support of our Brothers and Sisters in the Church. Within this context, however, there is still great work for us. There is a phrase I have used before, but it still has merit, “Sitting in Church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than sitting in McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” Not that anyone would want to be a hamburger, especially a McDonald’s hamburger, however, the analogy still holds. Our participation in the worship of the Church is no guarantee of our status as Christians. Going through the motions, without a real commitment, without an inner transformation, without love made manifest in our life and relationships we are, in St. Paul’s words, “a clanging cymbal.”

Our best example of this inner life of grace and obedience to God is Mary, the Mother of God. St. Luke writes of her in this morning’s Gospel, “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.” Other translations use the word “pondered” or “though deeply about them”. Do we do that? Do we reflect, ponder and think deeply about the things of God? Every day? Are the grace, love and saving power of the Most Holy Trinity the focus of our attention and the heart of our life? If they are not, if we are just clanging our cymbal, then we need to repent and get to work.

St. Paul also writes, “The proof that you are children is the fact that God has sent forth into our hearts the spirit of his Son which cries out ‘Abba!’ (‘Father!’)” God loves us, each one of us, and wants us to choose to be his children, to love him as our Father. The miracle of the Incarnation is the very word St. Basil upheld – consubstantial. Jesus Christ is one substance – homoousios – with the Father, and he is one substance with human beings. Which makes us, if we are in Christ, one substance, by grace, with the Father. We can become by grace what Christ is by nature, divine and human. That is why he was born under the law, submitted to Circumcision, was subject to his parents, lived a human life with all its risks, discomforts and ultimately death – so that human life could be made divine, so that we can share in the life of God through grace.

All this is there for us if we are courageous enough, or lost and lonely enough, or broken and desperate enough, to reach out our hands and our hearts to receive it.

Today is New Year’s Day according to the civil calendar, and there is a tradition of making resolutions for the coming year. It is not one I generally participate in or approve of, most of the time they only bring stress and failure from unrealistic expectations. But there is one resolution I can whole-heartedly recommend. That we resolve to live our faith to the best of our ability every day of this Year of Our Lord 2012.

And to that end: The Lord Bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!

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