The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus
Readings: Numbers 6.22-end; Psalm 8; Galatians 4.4-7; Luke 2.15-21
God grant that I may speak in his name: +Father, Son and Holy Spirit AMEN
Happy new year, happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year, happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
[If we don’t we might as well lay down and die]
You and I.
It is 43 years since Benny, Björn, Agnetha and Annifrid released it – and criticise me all you want in terms of musical taste – but ABBA, it seems to me, capture in this single, the summit of our human desiring. And never more so than today at the start of 2023. Happy New Year. Mundane salutation? Or essentiality?
For too very many, this vision, this entirely natural desire – to be happy – to be renewed at the year’s gate – to catch and keep hold of the vision of a world where every neighbour is a friend – appears at best remote – at worst impossible. And never was ABBA’s vision of a community of friendship and hospitality – a nationhood of love – more imperative than at the onset of this year whose predecessor closed with pub shootings, nightclub stabbings and the ongoing spectre of an illegal war to recall but three destructive metrics of our contemporary ethos of human flourishing.
Thus we find ourselves on this octave day of Christmas 22-3 amidst the experiential distortions of our age, still unfailingly beheld by the eternal moment wrought through God’s Logos, the baby Christ, more than 2000 years ago. Today the signifier is signified as ‘Salvation’, ‘Ιησούς, the one who is God: Immanuel incarnate for us – who becomes matter for us – born in and for all of us who matter to his heavenly Father. Happy New year!
What Björn Ulvaeus is doing in his lyric, I think, (apart from still presumably making millions in royalties from Happy New Year’s airtime), is expressing a hope out of humanity’s entirely natural disposition for love. And love at its purest and simplest is named on this glorious eighth day, even as its down-payments of faith and hope are swaddled in the puny, vulnerable form of the babe of Bethlehem amidst the half-dark uncertainty of the stable that brings him home to each of us. Here is love identified in its highest form and its fullest expression – here is the definition of love actually: ‘the name Jesus’.
‘God is Salvation’ is his meaning – the shining infant countenance from which we too are brought forth, called, even in the poor, lowly stable of this world, of ourselves, in order that we may bear God’s meek majesty to every neighbour – that we may comfort weary hearts and make feeble knees strong as we bring them near to the shining light the shepherds saw and speak the comfortable words of the prophets and of the angel. “Don’t be frightened; see, to you is born a Saviour, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God; …this will be a sign for you, you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Today, once again without let-up, we are identified within the community of love whose name and nature is enfleshed in the Father’s Messiah, Ο Χριστός. And more even than that, as this little man, Mary’s Son is named and circumcised in completely lawful obedience to the fin of space and time, so are our weary hearts, our feeble knees and the wholeness of our broken, disparate humanities reborn in the eternal newness that the divine incarnation both offers and gives away in the freedom of the Godhead’s own initiative; an initiative that greets us today as an ordinary Jewish baby, so that we may greet the extraordinariness of the living God and become like him in every way, shining as gods in our own right in this dark world of sin within which today God is identified and pledged everlastingly in the give and take of flesh-life.
God in Jesus Christ it is who is the enduring vision that ABBA devotees seek. God in Jesus Christ it is who is the hope of this vision and its will to try and to keep on trying, shining the wisdom of the Father of lights upon a world that loves darkness. And as the account of the circumcision reminds us, God in Jesus Christ it is who will absolutely die that we each, all and everywhere might receive this happy – this blessed vision – in all the promise of His new-born gift of meek majesty, who is like us in all ways but sin, showing us how we can therefore be divine.
I think ABBA’s single is great, yet I think it is wrong. None of us have to “have a vision now and then of a world where every neighbour is a friend.” Today’s gospel shows us so much more: it shows that in plain fact we are that vision with Ο Χριστός the helpless babe, our brother and the one in all our trials born to be our friend, offering even today to share his flesh in the perfect law of circumcision in order that we may not amidst all the assailing spectres of this transitory life – die – but rather live in the light and power of eternity’s love, declaring His name – God’s name from before the beginning – of Salvation – and drawing many who so keenly seek and desire, to joy in his praise – especially the weak and helpless in whose royal lowliness Jesus is forever come since he deigns to be enfleshed in their lives and to give that same flesh even to death that we with them, might inherit the earth.
Happy New Year! May it be so for us and every neighbour we are yet to meet, that as we see our common identity with the name that is above every name revealed in the Father’s Son, Mary’s baby boy, we also may be circumcised with him in heart and mind again and so changed from one degree of glory to another, bright with the vision, the hope and the will to try that delights not just the prophet’s ear, but ABBA fans the world over.
God grant that I have spoken to you in his name, +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.