01 January 2014

Sermon on the Feast of the Circumcision

From Canon Raphael Ueda, ICRSS:

The beginning of the New Year starts with the feast of the Circumcision. In Genesis it is written “An infant of eight days shall be circumcised. And my covenant shall be in your flesh for a perpetual covenant.”

In the law of the Old Testament, the circumcision was the sign of the covenant with God. God wishes to lead all men to a life of communion with himself. This simple idea is so basic to the teaching of salvation. Without talking about the relationship of men with God, this idea of the covenant is essential to the social and lawful experience of men. Men are bound among themselves by agreements and contracts implying rights and duties that are usually mutual. But in reality, many of the stories that we share about our relationship experiences often boil down to things not being mutual.

In relationships among friends, even among family members, there is sometimes a lack of mutual interest, a lack of mutual words and actions, and a lack of mutual values, love, care, trust, and respect. Unfortunately if it is not mutual, whatever we have in mind for a relationship is not going to happen. One side will end up feeling rejected, being confused, and will get overwhelmed by the feeling of deception caused by the lack of mutual understanding.

It can boggle the mind to fathom how we can feel something so deep, so all- compassing, and so consuming, that the other person does not feel at all. How can this be? The simple truth is, that no matter what we were feeling, if the relationship was not mutual, it will likely end in disappointment.

We should not have an unbalanced relationship with God who is Our Lord and Our Father. Rather, we should seek to have a mutual relationship with him.

The idea of covenant is not introduced late in the Old Testament. It was the beginning of all the religious thought of Israel and made it different from all the surrounding religions who adored natural powers. At Sinai, the delivered people entered into a covenant with Yahweh, and it was thus that the worship of Yahweh became its national religion. This covenant in question clearly is not a pact between equals like between man and man. But in the history of salvation Yahweh decided with a sovereign liberty to grant his allegiance to whom He made a covenant.

Right from the vision of the burning bush, Yahweh reveled to Moses His name and His plan for Israel. He wanted to deliver Israel from Egypt, then the land of slavery, to set her up in the land of Canaan; the land of freedom, for Israel was his people. God wanted to give her the land promised to her Fathers. In effectively freeing His people, God shows that He is the master and that He is capable of imposing His will.

The delivered people, Israelites in the Old Testament, had answered to the event by its faith. While giving His covenant to Israel and making promises to her, God also imposed some conditions which Israel will have to observe. This is the law which God revealed to Moses. This law of the Ten Commandments is the first stage which prepared them for the coming of Christ. The Ten Commandments are a light offered to the conscience of every man to make God’s call and ways known to him and to protect him against evil.

The Law is holy, spiritual and good, yet still imperfect. Like a teacher it shows what must be done, but does not of itself give the strength, the grace of the Spirit, to fulfill it. Because of sin, which it cannot remove, it remains a law of bondage. According to St. Paul, its special functions are to denounce and disclose sin which constitutes lust of man in the human heart. However, the Law remains the first stage on the way to the accomplishment. It prepares and disposes the chosen people and each Christian for conversion and faith in the Savior Jesus Christ. It prophesies and anticipates the work of liberation from sin which will be fulfilled in Christ.

With the arrival of Christ the fulfillment of the promise is done. Jesus Christ has become himself the New Covenant.

“Take and eat, this is My body. Jesus took the cup of wine, blessed it and passed it around. This is My blood, the blood of the covenant which will be shed for many for the remission of sins; this cup is the new covenant in My blood. From this it is evident that Jesus regards Himself as the new covenant. The promise of the new covenant was fulfilled through the blood of Jesus and through this covenant human hearts will be then changed and the spirit of God will be given.

The birth and death of Christ at once as sacrifice of Passover, sacrifice of the covenant and atoning sacrifice, will lead to their fulfillment of the figures of the Old Testament. It is by the Eucharistic participation, accomplished by faith, that the faithful will be united most intimately to the mystery of the new covenant and that they will benefit from its graces. It is therefore by faith in Him that salvation is obtained, not by the mere observation of the law.

The old covenant was itself put into a free gift of Christ, an economy of promise which God had freely instituted. The fulfillment of the old covenant in the new is clear. In the new covenant, sins are taken away. God dwells among men. He changes the heart of men and He places in them His Spirit. It is thus no longer the covenant of the letter but that of the spirit which brings with it the liberty of the sons of God.

For us the rite of circumcision is no more required for circumcision was the figure of Baptism. By baptism we have received faith. Faith is a personal act insofar as it is the free response of the human person to God who reveals himself. By this daily circumcision of the heart the grace of Christ will triumph in us, thus making the Christ-life an ever increasing reality in our souls. In today’s feast Jesus’ humble submission to His Father’s will is shown by His obedience to the law. And it is an invitation to us to be docile to God’s will.

At the beginning of the New Year people often make unrealistic resolutions that are either quickly forgotten, or become heavy. It would be better to invite Jesus in every day’s life for we know that He has become man among us.

Let us ask the Virgin Mary to accompany our journey of faith. For she embodied in a perfect way the obedience of faith throughout her entire life.

Dear faithful let us be ready to accept or rather to embrace with courage and readiness, everything that God wishes or permits, certain that in His Holy will we shall find His peace. Amen.

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