Friday, January 31, 2014

Feast of the Purification February 2

Malachi 3:1-5   *   Luke 2:22-40 

We learn from the Book of Leviticus, the twelfth chapter, that after the days appointed for the mother’s purification, the child is to be brought together with a sacrifice of a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and also a young pigeon or a turtle dove for a sin offering. We see in the last verse of that chapter:

“And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtle [doves], or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering...Lev. 12: 8)”

Remembering that, let us look again at the words from today’s Gospel reading:

“And when the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord; (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. (Luke 2: 22-24).”

We need to understand the theology of what is happening in these verses. To begin with, St Luke is very clearly telling us that the family into which God became manifested, in our own human nature, was not a family of wealth, but of poverty; for they were not able to bring a lamb. The royal line of David, the line of the Jewish kings, had been reduced to poverty by the process of history, of wars and of subjugation to the Roman empire, And so it is that Joseph, in the line of those ancient kings, was a poor carpenter. Into his house of nobility, but of poverty, was our Lord born; this same Lord of glory, who had only a month before been laid in a manger because there was no place else for Him.

Remember the words of St. Paul:

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich (II Cor. 8:9).”

The implications of this are very deep, and very profound. It is a picture of the mystery of the Incarnation itself, that the One Who did not grasp onto His own equality with God, but became a man, Who humbled Himself in obedience as a servant unto the death of the cross, is the One to Whom every knee shall rightly bow, and Who shall be called Lord on every tongue, at the mention of His human name, the name of Jesus. Here He was, noble and the heir to the throne of David, yet poor. Here He was, true man yet very God. Here He was, the Lord Who had suddenly come to His temple, yet a new born babe, without power, and without wealth.

To see Him as He truly was required the eyes of faith, a certain faith which is knowledge, and that comes only by the revelation of God. Eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that understands are the gift of the Holy Ghost. So it is that the true wisdom which comes from above is given to an old man, who wears the mantle of a prophet, seeing the Lord by the revelation given to Him from the Lord’s Holy Spirit. This is expressed in the words which live on in the Church every evening at prayer:

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

The wisdom of God contradicts everything that a fallen and sinful world holds dear. It contradicts the wisdom of the wise, the might of the powerful, the haughtiness of kings, the wealth of riches. “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek; He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.”

An old man takes in his arms an infant from a poor man’s house, and declares that He is the salvation of God for all the world. An elderly widow, also given the true wisdom from above, the gift of the Holy Spirit, speaks of Him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. The prophet Hosea wrote that, in the understanding of sinful man, “the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad (Hos. 9:7).” How could this poor son of a poor carpenter, bring salvation to the world? Let alone, to Israel? And what light could He give to the Gentiles, light that would overturn the pagan religions, the ignorance of idolaters in every land, including the powerful empire of Rome with its many gods? How could this child born into a carpenter’s house, restore the glory of Israel, as if the throne of David could replace the rule of the cruel gentile tyrant, Herod, and banish the powerful legions of Rome? What might was wrought by a young mother, by the willing obedient faith expressed in her words, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." A woman, "the weaker vessel," welcomed the Word of God to the world in her womb, giving Him human nature, accomplishing in her weakness what no army, in its strength, could do.

Let me allude to a fantasy story: Perhaps some of you have seen the movie The Return of the King, or, better yet, have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. If so, you recall that the world is saved from the power of the evil Sauron by two very little, and completely powerless people. Two hobbits of the shire, Frodo and Sam, accomplish what the warriors of Middle Earth, even under the leadership of King Aragorn, could not do themselves. In the climax of the story, the armies of Middle Earth can only fight their battle to serve as a distraction, while the two little hobbits, both under four feet tall, and without any strength of arms, manage to take the One Ring to its destruction, thus toppling the power of Sauron, and freeing the world from his grasp. Tolkien wrote his story with a Christian mind, as a very devout Catholic; and he made it obvious that the victory was wrought by Providence through the hobbits.

God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty (I Cor. 1:27);” so wrote St. Paul. The true victory that banishes oppression from the world, and overturns all of the power of evil, was accomplished by a naked and wounded, beaten and humiliated man, breathing His last breath nailed to cross, as a spectacle of all that appears to be weak and powerless. In His humility and obedience to the Father, His submission to the will of God in giving His life, he is the One true hero Who breaks all of the power of Satan, and liberates the whole world from sin and death.

But, the world saw Him in His weakness and foolishness. It saw Him in His poverty and want of all things, having His garments parted among the gambling soldiers, being given nothing to quench His thirst, but only vinegar as if by a cruel joke. By all the wisdom known to sinful men, this was no conquering hero, no victorious king. The words of Simeon and Anna must have seemed a hundred times more mad and foolish than when they had spoken of Him in the time of His infancy. Anyone old enough to have remembered them, who may have recalled hearing them about thirty three years earlier, surely thought that they must have been no true prophets.

Of course all of this brings me to my second theological point from today’s Gospel reading. Here we see Jesus being presented in the temple, and an offering being made for Him as if He were a sinner. His mother, the Blessed Virgin, is obeying the Law of Purification, as if this child had been born in uncleanness, that is, as if tainted with original sin: As if, in the prayer of David: “in sin hath my mother conceived me (from Psalm 51).” You and I can pray those words, for we were born in original sin, subject to powers over which we could not prevail; for we could never have made ourselves pure. But, Jesus needed no such offering, and His mother needed no purification. Yet, Mary and Joseph obey the Law; and this foreshadows for us the fact that Jesus would fulfill the Law.

The scriptures say that “He was tempted in every point as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).” And, that “God made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (II Cor. 5: 21).” Isaiah had written, “And He made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, because he had done no violence; neither was any deceit in His mouth...He bare the sin of [the] many, and made intercession for the transgressors (from Isaiah 53).” The offerings that day, in the temple, foreshadow the life of Christ as one of perfect obedience to the Father’s will, in this case specifically by adhering to the Law of God given through Moses. It foreshadows the words he spoke to John the Baptist at His own baptism in the Jordan River: “Suffer it to be so, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” For in His baptism He let Himself be identified with sinful humanity, and began then to take upon Himself the sins of the world, remaining Himself pure from all sin; as John the Baptist said that day, “Behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” He bore them all the way to the cross; for “surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”

Yes, He needed no offering, and His mother needed no purification since Her Son was borne in complete purity. But the offerings that day, in the temple, teach us that He was taking our sins on Himself. As the only pure Man ever to live, His death would be the only death that is completely undeserved. He did not merit death. Death came into the world through sin, and it is our penalty because of sin. When the sinless One died, death was undone. The power of Satan was destroyed, and with it the values and principles of a sinful world were turned upside down. On the day of his death, certified by His resurrection on the third day, all that was powerful was shown to be weak, all that was rich was shown to be poverty, all that was mighty was shown to be weak. “He hath put down the mighty from their seat; and hath exalted the humble and meek.” The two old prophets, who seemed foolish and mad, had spoken wisdom and reason when they spoke of this child as the One Who would bring redemption in Jerusalem.

And now, unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all wisdom, might, power and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

John 2:1-11

Today we will look at three important things meant to be drawn out, exegeted, from this portion of the Gospel of John. These are:

1) Christ’s presence at a wedding
2) His phrase “my hour”
3) The title that he gives to His mother, namely, “Woman.”

The mysterion of matrimony
First, let us consider His presence at a wedding. We know that the Lord is present in a very special way whenever a couple performs the sacrament of marrying each other with the blessing of the Church. Saint Paul calls the marriage union the “mystery” of Christ and His Church, and by the use of the word “mystery” (μυστήριον, mystērion) the scriptures tell us that this is a sacrament. We know that a sacrament conveys the grace of God, each according to His plan and purpose, a special and specific grace. The grace of the marital union is specific and has everything to do with our hope for a future and for new life.

We can say, with both scripture and reason on our side, that the Lord is not present in any meaningful way in unions outside of marriage. Certainly, they lack the grace of the sacrament, and even among non-Christians they are not conformable to God's laws. They have instead the nature of sin. But, in our time such non-marital unions are treated as acceptable by society. This is an area where the Church has no right and no authority to take the side of popular “culture.” We must be different. Whatever the world is teaching and doing, Christian parents, remember: You must teach your children to wait until marriage. The problem is, people treat the ultimate human relationship, the kind that alone brings forth new life, as a casual thing, and as something to be subject to experimentation. They experiment by living as if they were married; and when such a couple decides that it is finally safe to get married, they have become accustomed to the idea of the experiment; and that idea never goes away.

No wonder that such couples have a high divorce rate, as, indeed, the statistics show. They failed to learn certain important facts. First of all, marriage is not an experiment, but a commitment. Second, any human relationship that is experimental must fail at some time, because everybody is impossible to live with. If you do not consider yourself impossible to live with, than read the Epistle to the Romans and take note of Saint Paul’s description of what a sinner you are, and wise up. Finally, marriage is not simply a commitment two people make to each other, but a commitment that one man and one woman make to God, with faith that He is making the same commitment to them, and that (in the words from Ecclesiastes) “a threefold cord is not easily broken.” For the occasion of joy, when a couple begins to live in the sacrament of matrimony, the Lord is present.

We must base our understanding of marriage on what God has revealed. It is not between two people of the same sex, but only between one man and one woman. Nothing else is marriage. And, outside of marriage, sexual relations are strictly forbidden. If you disagree because of the spirit of the age, or of the world, then your argument is not with me; it is with God.*

Christ's "Hour"
“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.”

The way this sounds to modern ears, ‘What have I to do with thee?’ is a bit misleading. The way to understand it is simply, “what is there to be done between you and Me?” That is, what did the two of them have as a matter of mutual concern?

For this second point, I am grateful for a book by one of the genuine lights of the Roman Catholic Church here in America in the 20th Century, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. His commentary on this part of the Gospel of John, in his classic book that came out in 1961, Life of Christ, highlights one simple phrase and draws out the meaning with clarity. What did our Lord mean by “Mine hour is not yet come,” that enigmatic line He spoke to His mother? In the other places in the Gospel of John that speak specifically of His hour, the meaning has to do with His cross, the time of His death.

“Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.” John 7:30

“These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.” John 8:20

“And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified…Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” John 12:23, 27

“Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”
John 16:32

And with the cross His hour speaks of His resurrection and glorification:

“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” John 17:1

Here is how Archbishop Sheen put it:

“The ‘Hour,’ therefore, referred to His glorification through His Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension…His mother was asking for a miracle; He was implying that a miracle worked as a sign of His Divinity would be the beginning of His Death. The moment He showed Himself before men as the Son of God, He would draw down upon Himself their hatred, for evil can tolerate mediocrity, but not supreme goodness. The miracle she was asking for would be unmistakably related to His Redemption.” P.77

Mary knew full well the prediction that Simeon had made to her years before, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke: “A sword shall pierce thine own soul also.” The pain of the cross awaited her too, for her ordeal was to watch her Son die in shame and agony while His enemies rejoiced and delighted in His sufferings as entertainment, amusement and a kind of victory. Knowing that He was going to begin to take the path that would lead to the cross, she speaks her last line that was recorded in scripture: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Here we see the same willingness on her part that was expressed years earlier at the Annunciation: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.”
As Archbishop Sheen wrote:

“He was telling His mother that she was virtually pronouncing a sentence of death over Him. Few are the mothers who send their sons to battlefields; but here was one who was actually hastening the hour of her son’s mortal conflict with the forces of evil.” P. 78

Here we see, as well, how the Lord took up the work of His cross willingly. Years later, in the garden of Gethsemane, the most significant words that he spoke to the Father were, “nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.”

The seed of the woman
Finally, what of this curious title that he gives to His mother? Here at Cana, as He works that first miracle that would lead to His being “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… cut off out of the land of the living” “for the sins of the whole world,” He calls her “Woman.” One more time He would call her that. On the day of His death as she stood by helplessly, with the sword piercing her own soul, He said: “Woman, behold thy Son.”

Perhaps to the modern American ear this has no meaning. But, to the ancient Jews, educated in the scriptures, it was obvious, indeed it was rich in meaning. This comes from the Proto Evangelium, the first announcement of the Gospel. In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, after the fall of Adam into the sin and death that passed to all mankind, God spoke to the serpent the words of his coming defeat:

“And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Gen. 3:14, 15

The Lord Jesus identified Himself as the “seed of the woman.” His heel was bruised, that is He died, but He could not be held by death; and so He rose on the third day. The serpent’s head was bruised, that is, the prince of this world was cast out in the judgment that was rendered, by the Lord’s cross, on the world’s system of sin. The entire dominion of Satan was destroyed by the cross of Christ, the entire oppressive usurpation of rebellion against the Maker and Ruler of all things, destroyed like the armies of Pharaoh, so that we might be set free from slavery to sin and death. The Lord's heel was bruised for our sake, and the power of Satan was overthrown. Sin was killed by the cross, and death was slain by His resurrection.

The paradoxical use of the word "seed," (זֶרַע, zera`) that is, the woman’s seed, is to express a miracle, that a woman would conceive without a natural father. He, the Son of the virgin mother, is the seed of the woman, spoken of by God in the first promise ever revealed that He would save us from sin and death; for he does not damn Adam and Eve in the third chapter of Genesis; instead He makes this promise. So, in the Gospel, Mary is not simply any woman, but rather she is the Woman, because Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

We have seen:

1) Christ’s presence at a wedding
2) His phrase “my hour”
3) The title that he gives to His mother, namely, “Woman.”
* For a fuller treatment see this more up to date article written in 2016.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Telling Omission in "Angican Use"

It would be pointless to emphasize the similarities between the real Book of Common Prayer tradition and the "Anglican Use" liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church. Far more telling are the differences, above all the omission of this very Biblical portion:

"Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world..."

 This is very clearly based on Scripture.

"And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:27,28)."

"Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:9,10)."

"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:1,2)."

One thing is clear from the combination of these passages, that is that the many are the whole world. That whole world is every human being whoever lived, lives or will live, other than the One Man Jesus Christ.

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all...and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:6, 12)."

See in those words that the many are also all of us.

"Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous (Romans 5:18, 19)."

So far, from these portions of the Scriptures, we can see that Christ's death was the Propitiation for everyone else. "Many" means the many who are redeemed by the One. If there is any doubt about the fullness and sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice, let it be answered by understanding the meaning of His own statement, "It is finished (John 19:30)." The Greek original for those three words is only one word, teleo. This word was written on all receipts to mean "It is paid in full."

Obviously, we will have more to say about this when we write our chapter on Article XXXI. But for now, I will add this important question. Is it not an issue of Christology? If we believe that the Son is One with the Father and the Holy Spirit, equal as God to the other two Persons of the Trinity, can we even dare to imagine that His death was less than a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world? Can we imagine that some time in a punitive purgatory remains? Can we imagine that "merits" of the saints are either necessary or possible, as if God owed something to mankind on account because of merely human righteousness?

So why does the Roman Catholic Church find it necessary to omit so bold and excellent a Gospel proclamation in its so-called Anglican Use liturgy? Do they have a problem with the Biblical doctrine of Atonement and Propitiation? Here we see yet another telling reason why we are not a mission field for those who think their communion is the One true Church. Without a clear proclamation of the Gospel, the Church cannot be all that God has commissioned her to be.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 22, another Day of Infamy

Unless you are pro-life, your "Christianity" is mere religious show. 

Click on the picture for an article.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Romans 12: 6f * Mark 1:1f

We have two ways to approach today’s Gospel reading, and I believe they are so interrelated that I should talk about both of them. One is the clear revelation of the Trinity when Jesus was baptized, and the other is the meaning of Christ’s baptism as it relates to our salvation. As I said, however, these are interrelated, not separate subjects. They are separate sub-headings at most.

           The Son stands in the water, the Spirit appears in form as of a dove and lights upon Him, and the Father’s voice comes from above. This clear revelation of God is why we should think of today as a companion Sunday to Trinity Sunday. It is why the Orthodox Church sees this scene from the Gospels as the most significant Theophany, for which they name this season.

          About thirty some years ago I heard a man preach that when the Father spoke the words, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” that this was somehow necessary in order to meet the psychological need of Jesus, a word of approbation from the Father that, as the preacher’s words still ring in my memory, “His Son needed.” I do not know where people get these ideas, but they do not find them in the pages of scripture. The idea that we can understand Jesus Christ in psychological terms that are based upon the normal condition of fallen sinful people, who need healing or affirmation because of the brokenness of their lives, is a short route to heresy. We must not try to get into the mind of Jesus Christ as if He were subject to the problems that sinful people have. His understanding of His mission is not a subject for that kind of analysis.
          Another idea that was popular for many years is that Jesus was suddenly aware of who He was, and of His unique relationship to the Father, because of the voice from heaven and this whole spiritual experience. This interpretation comes from the idea that He was drawn to hear the preaching of John the Baptist, and underwent some sort of personal epiphany akin to religious conversion, the kind that takes place when revivalists preach. According to this interpretation, he emerged from the water a new man, suddenly filled with divine purpose. Again, this would require that we imagine a Jesus who came to John in order to be forgiven his own sins, because John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. But, the thought of Jesus having sins of which to repent is completely wrong. He is without sin.
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15).”
          Everything Jesus did in His public ministry was for our sake, like the hymn says- “for us baptized, for us He bore his holy fast and hungered sore.” That wonderful hymn begins each line with those two words, “for us.”...For us He prayed, For us He taught, For us His daily works he wrought…For us to wicked men betrayed…For us he rose from death again.” What happened here at the River Jordan did not happen because the Son needed the Father’s affirmation, and it is was not some personal epiphany that changed His life. He knew already exactly who He was, and of His unique relationship to the Father, having expressed it to Joseph and Mary in the temple many years earlier when he was a child twelve years old. He asked them why they had looked for Him when they ought to have known that he would be in His Father’s house (Luke 2:49).
          Jesus went to the River Jordan in order to begin His public ministry, to appear to the people of Israel, and to be proclaimed by John the Baptist as the Son of God. The baptism itself serves as a prelude to the crucifixion that He, for us, later would endure unto death. For here, standing with sinners in the waters of the Jordan, He is willingly taking on the sins of the whole world for the first time, letting Himself be identified with sinners and with their sins, remaining Himself guiltless, completely holy, and the only person among all of the human race about Whom the Father would say that He, God, is well pleased. God loves the fallen sinful children of men; but He is not well pleased with any of them in their Fallen state. Only His Son, free from sin, was pleasing to God; and here we see Him entering the waters of the Jordan to begin His identification with our sins, a voluntary identification that would culminate on the cross.  In John’s Gospel it is after this epiphany, this epiphany to John the Baptist and the people gathered, that the Baptist proclaims “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.”
          Jesus fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fishes, rose people from the dead, walked on water, healed everyone who came to Him, and never once complained about anything except for how little faith people have. He did not work within the confines of His human nature, but from within His eternal Godhead as the Son eternally begotten of the Father. He did not diminish His Divine nature, but rather He raised human nature. He did not reveal what is possible for a good man, but what is possible with God. The human nature that He took into His Divine Person as God the Son was a complete human nature; but the Person of Jesus the man was that of God the Son.
          The voice from Heaven, and the appearance like that of a dove, all centered upon Jesus in the River Jordan, did not come for His sake. It did not meet some need that He had. It was for the sake of those who stood upon the bank of the river, those who saw and heard. It was for the sake of all of us who have learned about this epiphany, this revelation of the Trinity that full and perfect name of God that later would be spoken by Christ after He rose from the dead; the name of “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” Here is a revelation of God, and of the mysterious relationship that has existed from all eternity, about which we have no right to speculate, hidden and veiled except for glimpses of revelation meant to aid us in our salvation. At no point was the Son alone, for the Father was always with Him, and the Holy Spirit remained upon Him.
          The other people came to the Baptist confessing their sins. But, about this man the Father made a confession, that He was well pleased. The others came out of need. Jesus was there to meet our needs, especially the deepest need of all, to be reconciled to God; to know Him, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Others came to lay down their sins; Jesus was there to take up the sins they laid down, and to carry them to Calvary where they would be nailed to the cross with Him. The others came to lay down their burdens; Jesus was there to take up their burdens. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53: 4-6).”
          The Holy Spirit appears as a dove. Now, this is a different kind of manifestation than the physical presence of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The Holy Spirit is appearing in a vision granted to everyone there; His appearing is in a symbolic way, that is to say, it is a Divine writing of iconography in the very heavens. The appearance of a dove is a symbol, and the message is that God’s wrath is over and done. This is the Christmas message of the angel who appeared and spoke to the shepherds of “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.” Not among men, but towards men. We are reminded of the story of Noah, who sent out the dove, which returned with an olive branch in its mouth to reveal that the waters of God’s wrath had abated from off the earth. Noah later offered a sacrifice after he left the ark, and God promised not to destroy man, and hung up His bow, His rainbow, as a pledge. The meaning is this: By appearing as a dove that descended upon Jesus, the Holy Spirit signified to us that Christ is the peace offering that reconciles us to God. This too, just like the very baptism itself, points to our redemption by Christ’s full and complete offering of Himself on the cross.
          And, to the ear came the audible voice of the Father, telling us of His pleasure in the Son. This is more than simply His approval of Christ’s holy life. It is the eternal love within the Trinity, wherein God delights in being God, where each of the Persons delights in the perfection and worthiness of the other two Persons. We know this is true, but our speaking of it cannot do justice to the reality as we shall begin to know it when the risen Christ returns in glory. For now, we see the significance in the Father’s words, telling us not only of His Son’s worthiness and holiness, but telling us this in contrast to the pleasure He cannot take in the fallen state of every other human being who was there. Here too we understand why this voice was heard at the Lord’s baptism. As Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinful mankind, the other Persons of the Godhead told us Who He is, and why He is Himself without sin, but standing in for us to save us. The Father speaks of His Son Who always pleases Him, telling us not only that He remains holy and without spot or stain of sin, but even more; that He is the Son Who throughout eternity and before all worlds gives delight to the Father in that Divine love that is beyond our comprehension. And this gives great meaning to the phrase St. Paul used when writing his Epistles, telling us that we are "in Christ." Part of the message of salvation is that we are in Christ, "in the Beloved," in the Son Who alone pleases the Father.    
          We see the Trinity in this report of the Lord’s baptism that day. The vision of the Holy Spirit was for our sake; the voice of the Father was for our sake. Here we see and hear the Trinity with eyes and ears, and we see also that only in Jesus Christ and His offering of Himself do we have salvation from sin and death. And, we can say, from all this, that the revelation of the Trinity tells us, in the words of Saint John the Apostle, “God is love.” 

The revelation of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, the Trinity, is a necessary part of our salvation. It is not about abstract and difficult theology, but about how God, who is Love, saves us from sin and death through the cross of His Son, and promises to raise us up in His Son just as He rose from the dead. God has made Himself known in our world- not perfectly understood, but known. What was revealed that day at the River Jordan was a revelation to every human being except Jesus, who alone already knew.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-nine Articles

 Article XXIX - Of the wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper
The Wicked, and such as be devoid of lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing.
De manducatione corporis Christi, et impios illud non manducare
Impii, et fide viva destituti, licet carnaliter et visibiliter, ut Augustinius loquitur, corporis et sanguinis Christ Sacramentum dentibus premant, nullo tamen modo Christi participes efficiuntur: sed potius tante rei Sacramentum, seu symbolum ad judicium sibi manducant et bibunt.
Archbishop Peter Robinson
As I mentioned above, this article has the unique distinction of having been refused royal assent for some eight years. It was initially drawn up by Archbishop Parker and confirmed by the 1563 Convocation, but was struck out by the Queen. As a result it was not published until 1571, when circumstances had somewhat altered. In 1563, Elizabeth's primary aim seems to have been to try and reconcile Lutherans and some "Henrician Catholics" to the Church of England who might otherwise have stood aloof. This seems to have been only a temporary policy as by 1563 the influence of Lutheranism on the English Reformation was already in sharp decline (its heyday had been in the 1530s) and Henrician Catholics were fast disappearing. This left the main body of educated opinion in the Church of England broadly in the Reformed camp.

This article shares with Article VI the rare distinction of alluding to one of the Latin doctors, in this case Augustine. Although it is sometimes stated that the Articles of Religion are Calvinist or Reformed, their deepest debt seems to be to Saint Augustine of Hippo. This seems to be a common trait of Reformation era confessions, most of which incorporate some measure of "radical" Augustinianism. It has to be remembered that in many ways this was a return to the mainstream of western theological thought which took Augustine as its starting point, and then proceeded through Gregory the Great, Bede, Alcuin, and Anselm, to St Thomas Aquinas (the Angelic Doctor) and Thomas Bradwardine, the Doctoris Profundis, who was briefly Archbishop of Canterbury in 1349.

The main area of development in this period had not been in the understanding of the doctrines of Grace, but in the development of Eucharistic doctrine away from the rather straightforward understanding shown in the writings of the first three Latin doctors - Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine - into something rather more complex. The general tendency was to reinforce the doctrine of the real presence and sacrifice, whilst weakening the Communion aspect. In large measure this was a reflection of the popular piety of the time, which tended to shy away from frequent communion, and invest the Eucharist with mystical powers beyond those declared in Holy Scripture. The drift away from regular Communion was so severe that by the high Middle Ages the Church had to legislate in order to get most Christian folks to communicate once a year at Easter. This, along with the Confession that preceded it, became the "Easter Duty" of so many generations of Roman Catholics. The Reformers, especially Luther and Calvin, but also Cranmer, hoped to increase the frequency of Communion. Hence the introduction of the 'no mass without Communicants' rule in 1549; but the inertia proved to be too great for them, and although the Lutheran Church of Germany and Scandanavia managed to sustain fairly frequent Eucharists down to the Englightenment, or a little later in the case of Saxony and Sweden, in the more reformed leaning countries monthly or quarterly became the rule.

With the post Reformation emphasis being on Communion, a gulf opened up between the thinking of the Augustinians of the High Middle Ages and the Reformers in their understanding of the Eucharist. Instead of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass, we have the 'true presence' and Communion as the dominant ideas in Eucharistic thought. However, the nub of this article lies in its quotation of a disputed passage from St Augustine. Parker believed the correct text to be
Qui non manet in Christo, et in quo non manet Christus procul dubio nec manducet spiritualiter carnem ejus nec bibit ejus sanguinem licit carnaliter et visibiliter premat dentibus sacramentum corporis et sanguinis Christi sed magis tantae rei sacramentum ad judicium sibi manducet et bibit (Supra. Joann. Tract 26).
The italicized passages have been questioned by the Benedictine editors of the work, but are at least as old as the time of Bede and Alcuin, and were accepted as genuine by Matthew Parker, and most authorities of the period. The contemporary discussion centered on whether St Augustine of Hippo was referring to the actual presence of the Christ in the Eucharist or the benefits thereof. Roman Catholic and Lutheran sources tended to take the latter point of view, which those influenced by Ratramnus, that is, those of the Reformed point of view, thought referred to the actual presence of Christ which was dependent on the worthiness and faith of the recipients according to their understanding of 1 Corinthians 11. Matthew Parker, and the vast majority of Anglican theologians down to the 19th century would undoubtedly have taken the Reformed party line on this Article. I personally find Article XXIX difficult to read in anything other than a receptionist sense. I guess that we can be thankful that subscription to the Articles of Religion was always on the basis of them being consonant with Scripture. In this instance, I think it is useful to fall back on the plain words of Scripture and remember what St Paul's writes in 1 Corinthians 11.29 "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body."

I actually think that what is most important about Article 29 today is the warning that it offers against unworthy reception of the Sacrament. One of the down sides of the twentieth century liturgical movement is that receiving communion has become a reflexive rather than a considered act on the part of many Christians. Yet it is quite clear from Holy Scripture, the writings of the Early Fathers, and the Reformers that Communion was meant to be a solemn act for which there was careful preparation. Before we receive communion we should look at the lengthy (by modern standards) Exhortation that is meant to be read on Advent I, Lent I, and Trinity Sunday according the rubrics of the 1928 BCP, which contains the following injunction, and take to heart what it says
" who mind to come to the holy Communion of the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour Christ, must consider how Saint Paul exhorteth all persons diligently to try and examine themselves before they presume to eat of that Bread and drink of that Cup. For as the benefit is great, if with a true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that holy Sacrament; so is the danger great if we receive the same unworthily."
The other two exhortations on the same theme should also be read from time to time to remind ourselves of the seriousness of post baptismal sin, our need to be firmly repentant and resolved to lead the new life in Christ before we come to the Lord's Table, and means available to us, including auricular confession, to make sure we can indeed "draw near with faith."

Fr. Robert Hart
This Article is not about trying to unravel the mystery of how the bread and wine are also the Body and Blood of Christ. It is not addressing again the subject of transubstantiation, or any other such theory (already covered in previous Articles). It is about salvation through Christ. It is about grace for those who receive the sacrament with hearty repentance and true faith, and the danger to those who presume to receive without faith. As such, its real focus is on the soul of an individual, and eternal destiny. It is about salvation and about judgment.  To say that the wicked are "in no wise partakers of Christ" is not about academic theories of what the sacrament is, but about Communion with Christ through faith.

As we have seen in the previous chapter, it is most likely that the use of the word "partakers" by English reformers (in Latin participes) relates to the Greek word for fellowship and communion (koinōnia). Not to be a partaker of Christ is not to be in fellowship or communion with Him. The wicked, by definition individuals living in a state of unrepentant willful sin, cannot be in communion with Christ. Such have not received forgiveness because their sins are current and practiced deliberately. "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:26)." The opening of St. John's First Epistle speaks of fellowship with God, and therefore with His Church, in terms of salvation.

Although Cranmer seemed to overlook the Eucharistic meaning in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John by spiritualizing it away from its sacramental association (a weakness in his book on the sacrament), the Scriptures and the ancient Fathers give us no other context in which to interpret the words spoken there by Jesus about eating His body and drinking His blood. As such, His words could be taken to grant salvation to anyone who merely receives the sacrament. But this would run counter to the clear words of St. Paul in the eleventh chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians. The words of Jesus, in the Gospel of John the sixth chapter, are these:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 5:47- 54)."

Are we to understand from this passage that everlasting life is granted just by eating of that bread and drinking of that cup, as if the command to repent has no meaning in the message of salvation? Clearly, the answer is no. Therefore, the Article agrees with a basic understanding of the clear meaning of Scripture; the sacrament is not a mechanical means to eternal life (hence the problem Archbishop Robinson has noted above, of merely "reflexive" reception). In this passage Jesus connects belief in Him with receiving the sacrament.

The meaning of Christ's words in that chapter remained hidden even from His disciples until "the night in which He was betrayed." Only then were those words given a clear meaning. In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, only those who have confessed their sins with "hearty repentance and true faith" are invited to receive the sacrament. For anyone else, "the danger is great."

Therefore, to dismiss this Article due to some scrupulous sensitivity to such issues as transubstantiation or consubstantiation, or other related and cherished ideas, is to miss the whole point it makes about salvation, that is about one's fellowship with Christ. It removes the need to balance Christ's own words in John chapter six with words He spoke earlier: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15)." It removes the need to take into account the warning of St. Paul as he wrote to the Corinthians. The danger is indeed great for those who lack the indivisible requirements of repentance and faith.

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Epiphany

Click on the picture for the link.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Second Sunday after Christmas Day

Isaiah 61:1-3 * Matthew 2:19-23

Today's Collect draws our attention to the relationship between the Word made flesh and the word spoken as recorded in scripture.

"Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

This is very fitting, because the readings appointed for this Second Sunday after Christmas Day remind us very much of this relationship. The living and eternal Word is the subject of the revealed Word of God, made known to Apostles and Prophets, recorded in the scriptures. We all know that the Word, or the Logos, (λo'γος), is a title of Christ that speaks of him as an eternal Person, uncreated and one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is why the Gospel of John opens with a threefold mention of God.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God."

God is named three times, and this is because John begins right away to teach us about the Trinity. I grow weary of musical and dramatic readings of the prologue of this Gospel that edit out the third mention of God, as if it were redundant. It is not redundant, but necessary. John is saying this: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (the Father), and the Word was God (the Son). The same was in the beginning with God (the Holy Spirit)." John later records the words of Jesus about the Other Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who "proceedeth from the Father." This is very important, because without the Trinity, the next major theme of John's Gospel would be lost, namely the Incarnation. For, he teaches us that "the Word was God," and then says in v.14,

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

Only this proper understanding of the double theme of the Gospel of John can help us understand all of its hardest, deepest and most puzzling statements. It is quite obvious that either John was teaching the substance of what later would be named the doctrine of the Trinity; or that he was completely incoherent. But, incoherent he most certainly was not. Those who cannot see the double theme of the Trinity and the Incarnation in the Gospel of John are forced to conclude that he simply rambled on without any meaning or logic. But, in fact his Gospel is well organized, and that is because it is thematic. Once you acknowledge the plot, so to speak, of the revelation of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that this revelation is made known because "the Word was made flesh," you can see the logic, the pattern, the scheme, of the book. It is like a fugue by J.S. Bach, with the subject stated, developed and woven throughout.

But, here I am going on about the Gospel of John thanks to the Collect, and our Gospel reading today is from Matthew; and in place of an Epistle we have an Old Testament reading that is quoted in the Gospel of Luke.

In the reading from Matthew is one of the two most enigmatic portions where he quotes the prophets.

"And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene."

Where exactly is that? In fact, I have seen many cases where Bibles with reference columns have pointed to the closest spot, closest to saying this, that the publishers can think of in the Old Testament. I have heard many explanations for why this or that verse is singled out, and all I can say is, it would help if only they knew Hebrew. I will explain this in a moment. But, first I want to look at Matthew's other seemingly far-fetched Old Testament reference (all his other Old Testament references make perfect sense right away). I refer to what comes earlier in the same chapter.

"When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son."

It is from Hosea 11:1. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." Or, so says the King James Bible. We see "child" and "son" as synonyms. But, not so the Hebrew, which uses the word
נַעַר (na'ar). In modern English we would say "youth" rather than "child." The youth, Israel, and God's Son who is called out of Mizraim, or Egypt, need not be the same. The prophet foretold that like the entire nation of Israel, God's Son would be called to out of the land of Mizraim, or as our English Bibles say, Egypt. In fact, this has everything to do with Christ being a prophet like unto Moses. This comes from the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy:

"The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him...And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him"(15,18,19)

Indeed, the entire episode of saving the infant Jesus from a mad king who ordered the death of the male children, fits that pattern; and it was because of Herod that the holy family was sent by God into Egypt. As Moses came out of Egypt with the people of Israel, yet a youthful nation, God's Son came out of Egypt with the holy family, the chosen of the chosen, the virgin Mary his mother and Joseph his adopted father.

So, where does the Old Testament call the Messiah a Nazarene, now that I plan to relieve you of the suspense? The answer will surprise you. It is in Isaiah 11:1, and it will surprise you because no English translation will carry it.

"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his root."

Yes, there it is. Now, I did not see that at all until I read this in the Hebrew. The word for "Branch" is
נֵצֶר (nazir). It may be rendered "and a Nazarene shall grow out of his root." As such, it may strike you that Matthew sees even something we may loosely regard as a pun, as having great weight. Jesse is who? The father of David; and so the reference to Jesse is clearly Messianic, foretelling the eternal and peaceful reign of the Lord's Anointed.

My reason for going on like this about the Old Testament prophecies is explained simply in that passage from the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus reads aloud the Old Testament lesson that we had in place of an Epistle reading. In the 4th chapter of Luke we read:

"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." (16-21)

The point of all scripture is to reveal Jesus Christ, "for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Colossians 2:9) As St. Augustine put it, "The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed." The Old Testament is about Jesus Christ. Through history, through shadows, through types, and through very direct foretelling in various places, it is all about Jesus Christ. When he rose from the dead, the Lord made this clear:

"And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:27)

This says "the things in all the scriptures concerning himself," rather than saying, "all the passages of scripture concerning himself." That is because all the scriptures are about him.

"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me." (Luke 24:44)

No wonder Matthew could seize even upon one word, and realize that it was significant. It is because the revelation of God is not simply a set of teaching, a body of laws, or even a great ideology. The revelation of God is in his Son; and without him we cannot come to the Father. God, who made man in his image and likeness, did so to send his perfect and express image, his exact likeness, his very Son. Jesus Christ himself. Not simply facts about him, and not simply his teaching, is the revelation of God come into the world to save us from sin and death.

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

So, we may repeat our Collect: "Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Circumcision of Christ

Romans 4:8-14 * Luke 2:15-21

 Back in the 1970s, when I was in my first year in college, I had a run-in with a Philosophy instructor. The older I get, the more I read and the more I learn, the more I know how right I was, and how wrong the instructor was. Now, that is not the normal reflection one makes of his first year of college, and not the normal reflection I make of my undergraduate days in the 1970s when I was a mere boy and a beardless youth (a time my own kids think could not have existed. When I tell them I was once their age, I am not sure they believe me).
Anyway, this Instructor told the class that the ancient Greeks had believed that matter was evil (so far she was somewhat right), and that, in her words, “we see this as part of Christian teaching, that matter is evil.” I did not hesitate to contradict her. I spoke right up: “That is not Christian teaching,” I said. She said to me, “Defend that statement.” So, I did. I pointed out that as early as the Book of Genesis, God looks at His creation and says, “It is very good (Gen. 1:31).” I mentioned the sacraments which use matter that becomes holy, specifically bringing up baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I was about to point out the most important part, that Christians believe that God Himself has appeared in the world of matter in what we call the Incarnation, the Christian teaching that God the Son is fully God and fully man in one Person. “And the Word was made flesh…(John 1:14).” But, she cut me off, and repeated her assertion that Christians have always believed that matter is evil.
The entire concept of matter being evil was the worst of ancient Gnostic heresies taught by one Marcion, whom the bishop and martyr Saint Polycarp called “the firstborn of Satan.” I am sure that these names were not familiar to the instructor. It is a shame that the standards at that college were so low as to make an instructor out of someone so totally unqualified. The punch line is, she also taught “Comparative Religions.” Not every punch line is funny, and that one is tragic.
After five centuries of division and confusion among Christians, it is all too true that the heart of the message is missing from what most people think we believe. During this season of Christmas, and particularly this eighth day of Christmas, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, it is a good time to state some basics about our faith. In particular, what does it mean that God the Son was born into the world as a human being? And, what does it mean about the use of matter in sacraments and in worship in general? It is right that we can see water, incense, the sound of bells and other created things as useful in worship. Our God made a good world, and created things have been sanctified by Christ taking human nature and coming into the world of matter, of space and of time. Eternity and time have met in one Person. For people who object to water, to incense, to bells and to the Real Presence in the Sacrament, I can only ask what they have against Jesus Christ having come in the flesh (I John 4:1f).
The fact that we believe such a thing, that we believe “the Word was made flesh,” is rather startling, quite a shock when we really take it in for the first time. I recall vividly when I was very young, attending a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and the Rector of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, a small country church in Maryland, read the opening of the Gospel of Saint John, the appointed Gospel for Christmas. I knew the words already, but as they were read in the context of the Church in that holy service, on that holy night, they hit me like a bolt of lightening. “…the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” A few days later I was walking the family dog, and those words came again. I already believed that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man; but the idea of what that means, once again, was like being struck by lightening. It really is rather a shock, a good shock and happy, to grasp the fact that God the Son has condescended to take our very nature into His eternal and uncreated Person- God equal to the Father and the Holy Ghost made very man.
The very fact that Saint Luke tells us that he was circumcised takes on great significance. Every Jewish boy was circumcised on the eighth day. This is what God commanded Abraham, and what Moses simply continued. But, what does it mean that Jesus Christ was circumcised? What does it tell us about creation and redemption, and God’s love for the human race?     
Well, to begin with, as our Collect points out, Jesus Christ would fulfill the Law. For redemption, it reminds us of words from the Epistle to the Hebrews: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).” The fact that He fulfilled the Law perfectly, and was Himself without sin is essential to our salvation; the Righteous One sacrificed as the Lamb without spot, Himself pure from all sin, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (I Pet. 2: 24).”  As Isaiah put it, in the 53rd chapter:

 “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The sinless One, like Adam whose sin made the many guilty, has by His obedience unto death as the atoning sacrifice, made the many righteous. In this first shedding of blood by circumcision He begins to obey and to fulfill the whole Law; no one else ever did it perfectly. No one else could. No human being in heaven or earth was worthy to open the scroll, says the Book of Revelation, except for the One who was like a Lamb that had been slain, and is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
What else does His circumcision tell us? It tells us that we can identify Him as an individual in history. This is very important, indeed essential, to believing that His Incarnation was real and not allegorical. Back in the 1980s, in New York City, one of the “progressive” Episcopal churches in town decided to display a female corpus- that is, the body of a woman- on a crucifix. Jesus Christ, in His sacrifice is transformed into a mere symbol instead of a real person in history. He becomes an allegory and metaphor. This denies the Incarnation (I John 4:1f).
God is the greatest Reality of all, and we human beings are the image. Jesus Christ in His human nature is the exact image, the express icon of God the Father. His Circumcision reminds us of this reality: namely, that He entered real human history. That is, the world, as it really is, received into its created existence the Lord Himself. He was real, and as an individual had marks that made Him of the male sex and of Jewish ethnicity, just as we all have distinctions of belonging to one of the two sexes, and to our own specific lineage from our ancestors. His sex was male, his ethnicity was Israelite. That is because He was not an allegory or metaphor, but a real human being in history.       
It is important that He was male. This is no “accident” of the Incarnation, but rather, part of the plan as the prophets foretold it. It is important that He was Jewish, of the tribe of Judah and descended from the Royal line of David. This too was no mere “accident” of the Incarnation, but an essential part of the plan of His Incarnation. As a man He is our High Priest and represents all of humanity in One Person - as head. Only a Jew from the line of David could be the eternal King whose government and peace will have no end.1
And, all of this ties into that other fact of His Circumcision, His Name. “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Jesus, Y’Shua, is a Hebrew name that means Salvation. As it says in the book of Isaiah:

Ci’ Adonai Shof’tenu
Adonai Mak’ka’kenu
Adonai Malkenu
Hu Yashi-enu

“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He is our salvation (Isaiah 33:22).”

We need to understand the two comings of Jesus Christ as they are revealed in the Old Testament: His first coming as Priest and His second when He will come as King. For today, let us consider the meaning of His circumcision, the first shedding of His blood, and His particular history as a male of the house of David, of the tribe of Judah. This real man in real history has overcome the barriers between us and God. By taking human nature He has overcome the chasm between Creator and creature that separated us from God. As the Lamb of God Who took away the sins of the world in his atoning death, when He offered Himself on the cross as the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, He removed the separation between us as sinners and the Holy God. When He rose from the dead He did away with death that separated us from the Living God, the source and author of all life.
His Name is Jesus. He is our salvation.

1. Isaiah 9:6,7. These two verses reveal that Messiah would be a male of David’s line.