01 January 2022

With the Saints through Christmas (7):
1 January 2022, the Naming of Jesus

Elijah’s Chair, used at the circumcision of a Jewish boy when he is eight days old (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is a season that continues for 40 days until the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas (2 February).

Today is New Year’s Day, and before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Christmas;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

However, instead of reflecting on the life of a saint this morning, I am thinking of how this day is marked in the Church Calendar as the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.

This feast has been observed in the Church since at least the sixth century, and the circumcision of Christ has been a common subject in Christian art since the tenth century. A popular 14th century work, the Golden Legend, explains the Circumcision as the first time the Blood of Christ is shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption, and a demonstration too that Christ is fully human.

This feast day is also a reminder that the Christ Child is born into a family of faith. He is truly God and truly human, and in his humanity he is also born a Jew, into a faithful and observant Jewish family.

In a prayer that has been used at circumcisions since the 14th century but that may be much earlier, God is asked to ‘sustain this child, and let him be known in the house of Israel as … As he has entered into the Covenant of Abraham, so may he enter into the study of Torah, the blessing of marriage, and the practice of goodness.’

The prayer continues: ‘May he who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, bless this child who has been circumcised, and grant him a perfect healing. May his parents rear him to have a heart receptive to Torah, to learn and to teach, to keep and to observe your laws.’

The service concludes with the priestly blessing in Numbers 6: 23-26:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

The festival of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus provides a much-needed opportunity to challenge antisemitism in the world today, remembering that Christ was born into a practicing, pious Jewish family, and that January 2022 also marks the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Birkenau.

A display in the Jewish Museum in Bratislava includes a typical example of Elijah’s Chair, used during the Circumcision of a new-born Jewish boy. The godfather (sandek) sits on the chair and holds the child on his knees.

Typically, the Hebrew text on the right-hand upper backrest reads: ‘This is the chair of Elijah, angel of the Covenant.’

The Hebrew text on the left-hand upper backrest reads: ‘Remembering the good (that he did), let him bring salvation quickly in our time.’

Saint Luke does not say where the Christ Child was circumcised, although great artists – Rembrandt in particular – often place the ritual in the Temple, linking the Circumcision and the Presentation, so that Christ’s suffering begins and ends in Jerusalem.

The instruments used by a mohel at Circumcision … an exhibit in the Jewish Museum in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 2: 15-21 (NRSVA):

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 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.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (1 January 2022) invites us to pray:

Heavenly Father, we thank You for coming into the world through Jesus. May we follow Your calling and know we are loved.

Yesterday: William Bedell

Tomorrow: Samuel Azariah

The railway tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau … January 2022 marks the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, and the Circumcision and Naming of Christ is a moment to challenge antisemitism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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