We all find great joy in the coming of Christmas and, strangely, many exhibit even greater joy with the coming of the secular new year. Increasingly more and more the meaning of Christmas is becoming similarly secularized which is one very good reason for us to abandon that name and speak of it as the Nativity of Jesus Christ. We are also forgetful of the fact that the period of the Nativity is one end of the pivot point of Christian worship with the other end at Theophany (Epiphany).
There are twelve days from the one on December 25th to the other on January 6th, and at the midpoint, January 1st, is the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ. This latter day is the pivotal point of our worship. Think about it, Jesus comes into our world to bring salvation to mankind, and this entry did not take place on the Nativity! It occurred on the day of His Incarnation, March 25th. Read the Gospel for the Day of the Annunciation, Luke 1:24-38 as the Angel announces the details to the Virgin Mary and reassures her by answering her questioning doubts, whereupon Mary said “Be it unto me according to thy word.” A most significant action since she accepts the promise of God willingly! This is important because the spread of Christianity was voluntary, a welcoming acceptance by its adherents, not by any force or military action. That the Son of God had entered into our existence at that moment is reflected in the dismissal hymn (the collect) for that day:
Today is the crown of our salvation
and the manifestation of the Eternal Mystery.
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin,
and Gabriel announces the good tidings of grace.
Wherefore let us also with him cry to the Mother of God:
Hail to you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you!
Therefore the beginning of the cycle of our worship of Jesus is on that day and not on the Nativity (Christmas) nor at Pascha (Easter). The Nativity is the fulfillment of the day of Christ’s Incarnation. This was His entry into our sinful world in order for Him to be sacrificed and to die which required that He should take on the form of mankind, which we read in Philippians 2:7 – He emptied himself and took on the form of a base servant. Yet He was recognized while still in His mother’s belly. When the Holy Virgin visited the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb, anon to be John the Baptist, leaped in joy and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Circumcision of our Lord celebrated on January 1st is the first step of God’s demonstration that His Son comes to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it. In other words Jesus isn’t coming to destroy the belief and worship of God but to destroy the evils that some men have built about it and to extend the true faith to all mankind, not only to the Jews. Therefore the Feast of the Circumcision is the true pivot when all that comes before is of the infant Jesus and all that comes after is the Jesus who begins His ministry.
There is one Great Feast celebrated on February 2, an event that occurs following the Circumcision and also after the adult Jesus of the Theophany. This is the Meeting of Our Lord, when the Jesus child is presented to Simeon in Jerusalem’s temple. Simeon was filled with the Spirit and announced to the child’s mother the future that Jesus was to encounter.
~By John P. Nasou, M.D., May 23, 2011. John is a life-long parishioner and former parish council president of Saint Sophia Cathedral, Washington, DC.