2016 has been an awful year. Sure, there were individual moments that shone like the magi's star. In our family, there were births of wonderful babies, Wylie got his driver's license, Beatrice survived her first year at college, and Joe made Captain. But by and large, most people - all the people? - I talk to are ready to shut the door FIRMLY on 2016.
And the Church is ready to move into 2017, as well. Christ is born! The Nativity has happened and we are in the great pivot, waiting for the magi to show their obedience to a baby king, waiting for the grown Jesus to signal he is God-with-us, waiting for the signs and symbols of Epiphany.
BUT WE ARE STILL IN THE NATIVITY. In a weird twist of God's calendar, we actually celebrate Christ-the-baby for a solid 12 days. And so, this 8th day of Christmas, the 8th day after Jesus' birth, we find ourselves in the Temple with Joseph and Mary and the squalling, squirmy Christ child. We find ourselves here because Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus were 1st century Jews. In accordance with the custom of their faith, they had come to the Temple to name their baby and, as a son, for him to be circumcised. The bris, as Jews today call this ceremony, is the enactment of a covenant between man and God that stretches back to Abraham. In Genesis 17, God changes Abrams name to Abraham...but the sign of the covenant with which he does that is in circumcision (Genesis 17: 9-14). 21st century American Christians call this the Feast of his Holy Name, but it is more properly the Feast of the Circumcision, because while the name is important, the act of blood-letting is more important.
As a culture, we've moved beyond circumcision. When Wylie, who is almost 17, was born, parents who chose not to have their boy children circumcised at birth were on the fringe. There are now more parents who choose genital integrity over circumcision.
So why does it matter? Why not simply refer to this day as the naming of Jesus? His name is pretty important: Jesus, a derivative of Joshua, means "he saves." He is also to be called Emmanuel, "God with us." Those names appear to his parents in dreams from Gabriel. Hebrew scripture tells us that God cares deeply about names and naming. But we also know that God cares deeply about covenants.
*As we pivot into Epiphany, into the miracles of Jesus that portend who is really is, it's important to remember where we came from.
*As we swing into the New Year, with so many changes on the personal, family, and societal levels, it's important to remember where we came from. We cannot simply shut the door on 2016. We cannot have made it to 2017 without 2016 and we would be wise to remember the year as we move bravely into the new one.