In college I started giving blood on a regular basis. I think I did it to impress a girl, but I felt good about it. It is a great way to contribute to the good of society. The sight of a needle never seemed to bother me. In our modern world, this is as close as most get to blood, myself included. In a more agrarian setting, we would see blood much more often, as we butchered livestock or witnessed the birth of domesticated animals. As it stands, the sight of blood (a phrase that speaks for itself) causes a good many to faint.
This skittishness might explain why the feast day we celebrate today is often called Holy Name rather than the Circumcision of Christ (evidently the more common name in days gone by). But remembering that our Lord was named Jesus is not a bad thing! Joseph is told,
Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
We might get the impression that this name was special, reserved for special people, but archeologists have found more than 70 tombs of “Yeshuas” (the Hebrew name of Jesus) from the time of our Jesus. Still, as Christians, we believe this particular instance of naming someone Jesus was different. The Cross and Resurrection stand as witness to the special truth of the angel’s words; Jesus has saved his people from their sins, and we have become “his people!”
Then why should we care about the fact that Jesus was circumcised? There are a few reasons.
First, it puts Jesus squarely in the flow of his Jewish ancestry. Jesus’ circumcision takes us all the way back to Abraham, who in Genesis 17 is commanded to circumcize his whole household. It is worth pointing out that circumcision comes after Genesis 15 where Abraham believes God and as a result is declared righteous. We often get this order wrong, requiring action before faith, but faith precedes action.
Second, in a similar way to Jesus’ baptism, this puts Jesus in line with the Law. Leviticus 12 had required all male children to be circumcised on the eighth day. Interestingly, this is a case of following the Law that Jesus had no control over. His parents are responsible.
While the early Church’s discernment ended the requirement for us to be circumcised, Jesus’ circumcision calls us to give the Law a different perspective. This is a subject beyond the scope of this blog post, but we should spend some time considering the Law in the light of Jesus’ circumcision. We cannot simply ignore the Law; our Lord did not.
Finally, this takes us back to our “blood aversion.” Moderns sit uncomfortably around the idea of sacrifice. That the shedding of blood can have some impact on our guilt is an affront to our cultured selves. Words like barbaric and uncivilized are thrown at the idea of a blood sacrifice. Sure the cultures of the Old Testament believed in the necessity of the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins, but we have progressed past that.
Yet the New Testament links Jesus’ blood with our salvation in a way guaranteed to make 21st century people squirm. Followers of Jesus both past and present have taken an embarrassing interest in “the blood of Jesus.” They have found Jesus’ blood to be more than just a metaphor, but a dear reality. In Jesus’ blood they have found themselves to have been washed “whiter than white.” That blood has actual power to free people today from their bondage to sin and death.
So on this day to remember Jesus’ naming and circumcision, we remember the first time he shed his blood for us. Ahead for this eight-day-old infant lay a crown of thorns, a severe beating, nails in his hands and feet, and a spear thrust in his side. All this later abuse and blood letting was foreshadowed in this act. It is appropriate then that we follow now what the Apostle Paul says will happen (Phil. 2:10): we bow our knees at this great name “Jesus” and confess him Lord, the one who has bled to save us.