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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The eighth day

As Jewish tradition would have it, the Christ child is taken to the synagogue on the eighth day after his birth for the ceremony of the "Brit Milah" - the Covenant of Circumcision. Today, it referred to as a "bris" (covenant).  It is a memorial of the first covenant given to Abraham so many years ago (Genesis 17:10-14).  Although modern day culture views this "rite" as for the purposes of physical hygiene, the real meaning of the "rite" of circumcision was as a symbol of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people.  Circumcision is performed on the eighty day of the child's life, during the daylight hours.  The Jewish day begins at sunset, so in counting the eight days, it is important to keep that in mind.  As part of the mysteries of how God came to explain certain practices happening at certain periods of time in a person's life were not fully recognized for their benefits when they were given.  If you look closely at this practice, you might wonder why day eight of a baby boy's life.  I did a little research into that one and one of the medical reasons behind the delay is the development of the clotting mechanisms in the baby's blood - they are fully stabilized by the eighth day.  I often find wonder in how God rolled out his commands and what he specifically required as certain feasts, festivals, or practices were to occur.  In many cases, we can find a direct link to what God intends for our health, well-being, or general safety - even when we don't fully recognize these benefits!  Jesus' parents were not unlike other Jews of the day - their obedience to the Law was perfect.  So, we find Jesus in the synagogue (temple) on the eighth day, for the purpose of his "Brit Milah".

When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to do what the Law of Moses says should be done for a new baby, the Spirit told Simeon to go into the temple. Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, “Lord, I am your servant, and now I can die in peace, because you have kept your promise to me. With my own eyes I have seen what you have done to save your people, and foreign nations will also see this. Your mighty power is a light for all nations, and it will bring honor to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:27-32 CEV)

It is during this formal ceremony of dedication of the child to God that the Hebrew name is given to the child.  The father would be the one to traditionally give the name.  If you remember back in the earlier part of the story of Jesus' conception, you will remember God the Father giving the name.  In reverence to God, Joseph maintains this name as he brings the baby on the eighth day.  It would have been within his "natural" right to give a name of his choosing, but if you remember the details of Christ's birth, you will recall the following:

- Mary "knew" no man, yet was found with child - this meant that God was his Father and only the Father of the child had the right to choose the name!   While Joseph was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, the baby that Mary will have is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead and marry her.  Then after her baby is born, name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:20-21 CEV)

- Mary and Joseph married, but did not consummate the marriage until AFTER Jesus was born.  This gave no "right" to Joseph to even think of the possibility of another name than the one the angel had given to him in his dream that night so many nights prior to the birth. After Joseph woke up, he and Mary were soon married, just as the Lord’s angel had told him to do. 25 But they did not sleep together before her baby was born. Then Joseph named him Jesus.  (Matthew 1:24-25 CEV)

In the story of Christ's birth, we see Simeon, a devout Jew who is described in scripture as "a good man who loved God and was waiting for God to save the people of Israel".  He comes to the synagogue at the same time Joseph is bringing Jesus for the ritual of circumcision and his naming.  This devout man was told he would not die until he had seen the Christ child. Now up in years and nearing the end of his life, he is about to behold the one for whom his heart ached and his spirit longed to see.  As Jesus is brought into the synagogue, Simeon takes him from Joseph and begins to prophesy over this little child.  Jesus' parents were surprised at what Simeon had said.  Then he blessed them and told Mary, “This child of yours will cause many people in Israel to fall and others to stand. The child will be like a warning sign. Many people will reject him,  and you, Mary, will suffer as though you had been stabbed by a dagger. But all this will show what people are really thinking.”  (Luke 2:33-35 CEV)

Imagine being the parents of Jesus at that moment.  You are simply there to offer your child in obedience to the Law and to announce his name to all those in attendance, but instead, you receive this kind of announcement about the tiny life you hold in your arms.  As they hear these words, they must have endured a moment of heart-ache and even a little panic. The story doesn't end there, though, for another person was there to witness the events of the day - Anna the Prophetess.  At 84 years of age, she had served in the synagogue or temple for nearly her whole life.  We know she was married at the typical age of most Jewish women (sometime in her early teens), and was married for seven years before she was left a widow.  From that time forward, it is recorded that she served in the synagogue/temple.  All it says about Anna's interaction with Jesus is pretty short, but very profound:  At that time Anna came in and praised God. She spoke about the child Jesus to everyone who hoped for Jerusalem to be set free.  (Luke 2:38 CEV)  She spoke about the child to everyone who hoped for Jerusalem to be set free - not to every onlooker, but to those with hungry and hurting hearts.  This is often the story we hear about Christ's life - those who testified of his grace and mercy did so to those who had ears to hear and hearts willing to respond in obedience to the message they'd proclaim.

In considering the significance of this part of the birth of Christ, it is important for us to remember a couple of things.  First, Christ came not as a divine being, but as one who took on human form.  As such, he participated in all the human rites, rituals, and feasts.  In his circumcision, he was also being "marked" as one who would keep covenant with God.  Later in his life, he would announce that he came to bring a "new covenant" - ratified by the shedding of his blood.  Second, he was long awaited and hungering hearts recognized his presence.  There is nothing God desires more than to come to those with waiting hearts. Lastly, the name of Jesus was not given through earthly means, but by the one with the "right" to name this one who would save the world - God the Father.  As such, the name is all powerful and all-encompassing!  Just sayin!