The Circumcision of Our Lord,
Commonly Called the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus
For the First Nocturn
The First Reading
(from the gospel of St. Luke 2:15)
AND it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
(from Calvin's Commentaries, Harmony of the Gospels “Volume XVI”)
15. After that the angels departed. Here is described to us the obedience of the shepherds. The Lord had made them the witnesses of his Son to the whole world. What he had spoken to them by his angels was efficacious, and was not suffered to pass away. They were not plainly and expressly commanded to come to Bethlehem; but, being sufficiently aware that such was the design of God, they hasten to see Christ. In the same manner, we know that Christ is held out to us, in order that our hearts may approach him by faith; and our delay in coming admits of no excuse. But again, Luke informs us, that the shepherds resolved to set out, immediately after the angels had departed. This conveys an important lesson. Instead of allowing the word of God, as many do, to pass away with the sound, we must take care that it strike its roots deep in us, and manifest its power, as soon as the sound has died away upon our ears. It deserves our attention, also, that the shepherds exhort one another: for it is not enough that each of us is attentive to his own duty, if we do not give mutual exhortations. Their obedience is still farther commended by the statement of Luke, that they hastened, (ver. 16;) for we are required to show the readiness of faith.
The Third Reading
(from the 39 Articles of Religion)
XVIII. Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ.
They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.
For the Second Nocturn
The Fourth Reading
(from the gospel of St. Luke 2:16-20)
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard an seen, as it was told unto them.
The Fifth Reading
(from Calvin's Commentaries, Harmony of the Gospels “Volume XVI”)
16. And found Mary. This was a revolting sight, and was sufficient of itself to produce an aversion to Christ. For what could be more improbable than to believe that he was the King of the whole people, who was deemed unworthy to be ranked with the lowest of the multitude? or to expect the restoration of the kingdom and salvation from him, whose poverty and want were such, that he was thrown into a stable? Yet Luke writes, that none of these things prevented the shepherds from admiring and praising God. The glory of God was so fully before their eyes, and reverence for his Word was so deeply impressed upon their minds, that the elevation of their faith easily rose above all that appeared mean or despicable in Christ.3 And the only reason why our faith is either retarded or driven from the proper course, by some very trifling obstacles, is, that we do not look steadfastly enough on God, and are easily "tossed to and fro," (Ephesians 4:14.) If this one thought were entirely to occupy our minds, that we have a certain and faithful testimony from heaven, it would be a sufficiently strong and firm support against every kind of temptations, and will sufficiently protect us against every little offense that might have been taken.
17. They published concerning the word. It is mentioned by Luke, in commendation of the faith of the shepherds, that they honestly delivered to others what they had received from the Lord; and it was advantageous to all of us that they should attest this, and should be a sort of secondary angels in confirming our faith. Luke shows also that, in publishing what they had heard, they were not without success.4 Nor can it be doubted, that the Lord gave efficacy to what they said, that it might not be ridiculed or despised; for the low rank of the men diminished their credit, and the occurrence itself might be regarded as fabulous. But the Lord, who gave them this employment, does not allow it to be fruitless.
That the Lord should adopt such a method of proceeding as this,--should employ inconsiderable men in publishing his Word, may not be quite so agreeable to the human mind. But it tends to humble the pride of the flesh, and to try the obedience of faith; and therefore God approves of it. Still, though all are astonished, no one moves a step to come to Christ: from which we may infer, that the impression made upon them by hearing of the power of God, was unaccompanied by any devout affection of the heart. The design of publishing this report was not so much for their salvation, as to render the ignorance of the whole people inexcusable.
19. Now Mary kept. Mary's diligence in contemplating the works of God is laid before us for two reasons; first, to inform us, that this treasure was laid up in her heart, for the purpose of being published to others at the proper time; and, secondly, to afford to all the godly an example for imitation. For, if we are wise, it will be the chief employment, and the great object of our life, to consider with attention those works of God which build up our faith. Mary kept all these things. This relates to her memory. Sumballein signifies to throw together,--to collect the several events which agreed in proving the glory of Christ, so that they might form one body. For Mary could not wisely estimate the collective value of all those occurrences, except by comparing them with each other.
20. Glorifying and praising God. This is another circumstance which is fitted to be generally useful in confirming our faith. The shepherds knew with certainty that this was a work of God. Their zeal in glorifying and praising God is an implied reproof of our indolence, or rather of our ingratitude. If the cradle of Christ5 had such an effect upon them, as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to God? For Christ did not only ascend from the earth, that he might draw all things after him; but he sits at the right hand of the Father, that, during our pilgrimage in the world, we may meditate with our whole heart on the heavenly life. When Luke says, that the testimony of the angel served as a rule to the shepherds in all that they did,6 he points out the nature of true godliness. For our faith is properly aided by the works of God, when it directs everything to this end, that the truth of God, which was revealed in his word, may be brought out with greater clearness.
The Sixth Reading
(From St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D)
All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Col. iii, 17.)
For if we thus do, there will be nothing polluted, nothing unclean, wherever Christ is called on. If thou eat, if thou drink, if thou marry, if thou travel, do all in the Name of God, that is, calling Him to aid thee: in everything first praying to Him, so take hold of thy business. Wouldest thou speak somewhat? Set this in front. For this cause we also place in front of our epistles the Name of the Lord. Wheresoever the Name of God is, all is auspicious. For if the names of Consuls make writings sure, much more doth the Name of Christ.
Or he means this; after God say ye and do everything, do not introduce the Angels besides. Dost thou eat? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Dost thou sleep? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Launchest thou into the forum? Do the same-nothing worldly, nothing of this life. Do all in the Name of the Lord, and all shall be prospered to thee. Whereonsoever the Name is placed, there all things are auspicious. If it casts out devils, if it drives away diseases, much more does it render business easy.
And what is to "do in word or in deed"? Either requesting or performing anything whatever. Hear how in the Name of God Abraham sent his servant; David in the Name of God slew Goliath. Marvelous is His Name and great. Again, Jacob sending his sons saith, "My God give you favor in the sight of the man." (Gen. xliii. 14.) For he that doeth this hath for his ally, God, without whom he durst do nothing. As honored then by being called upon, He will in turn honor by making their business easy. Invoke the Son, give thanks to the Father. For when the Son is invoked, the Father is invoked, and when He is thanked, the Son has been thanked.
These things let us learn, not as far as words only, but to fulfill them also by works. Nothing is equal to this Name, marvelous is it everywhere. "Thy Name," he saith, "is ointment poured forth." (Cant. i. 3.) He that hath uttered it is straightway filled with fragrance. "No man," it is said, "can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." (1 Cor. xii. 3.) So great things doth this Name Work. If thou have said, In the Name of Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost, with faith, thou hast accomplished everything.
See, how great things thou hast done! Thou hast created a man, and wrought all the rest (that cometh) of Baptism! So, when used in commanding diseases, terrible is The Name. Therefore the devil introduced those of the Angels, envying us the honor. Such incantations are for the demons. Even if it be Angel, even if it be Archangel, even if it be Cherubim, allow it not; for neither will these Powers accept such addresses, but will even toss them away from them, when they have beheld their Master dishonored.
"I have honored thee," He saith, "and have said, Call upon Me"; and dost thou dishonor Him? If thou chant this incantation with faith, thou wilt drive away both diseases and demons, and even if thou have failed to drive away the disease, this is not from lack of power, but because it is expedient it should be so.
"According to Thy greatness," he saith, "so also is Thy praise." (Ps. xlviii. 10.) By this Name hath the world been converted, the tyranny dissolved, the devil trampled on, the heavens opened. We have been regenerated by this Name. This if we have, we beam forth; This maketh both martyrs and confessors; This let us hold fast as a great gift, that we may live in glory, and be well-pleasing to God, and be counted worthy of the good things promised to them that love Him, through the grace and lovingkindness, through Christ Our Lord, to Whom be honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
For the Third Nocturn
(from the gospel of St. Luke 2:21)
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
(from Calvin's Commentaries, Harmony of the Gospels “Volume XVI”)
21. That the child might be circumcised. As to circumcision in general, the reader may consult the Book of Genesis, (17:10.) At present, it will be sufficient to state briefly what applies to the person of Christ. God appointed that his Son should be circumcised, in order to subject him to the law; for circumcision was a solemn rite, by which the Jews were initiated into the observance of the law.7 Paul explains the design,8 when he says, that Christ was
"made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law," (Galatians 4:4,5.) By undergoing circumcision, Christ acknowledged himself to be the slave9 of the law, that he might procure our freedom. And in this way not only was the bondage10 of the law abolished by him, but the shadow of the ceremony was applied to his own body, that it might shortly afterwards come to an end. For though the abrogation of it depends on the death and resurrection of Christ, yet it was a sort of prelude to it, that the Son of God submitted to be circumcised.
His name was called JESUS. This passage shows, that it was a general custom among the Jews to give names to their children on the day that they were circumcised, just as we now do at baptism. Two things are here mentioned by the Evangelist. First, the name Jesus was not given to the Son of God accidentally, or by the will of men, but was the name which the angel had brought from heaven. Secondly, Joseph and Mary obeyed the command of God. The agreement between our faith and the word of God lies in this, that he speaks first, and we follow, so that our faith answers to his promises. Above all, the order of preaching the word is held up by Luke for our commendation. Salvation through the grace of Christ, he tells us, had been promised by God through the angel, and was proclaimed by the voice of men.
The Ninth Reading
(St. Ambrose, Bishop Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. “PL 60, col. 1572.”)
[Introduction: In the exposition of the preceding verse 19, the holy bishop speaks of the Blessed Virgin, in words which form a suitable prelude to his exposisiton of today's gospel. In this verse the Evangelist says of her: But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. The sermon begins from his comment upon verse 19.]
Let us learn chastity in all things from the Holy Virgin, who no less contained in word as in person, reflected in the quiet of her heart upon the proofs of her faith. If Mary learns from the Shepherds, why will you not learn from the priests? If Mary kept silence before the Apostles had taught, why, now that they have spoken, do you wish to teach rather than learn? Learn also, that vice belongs to the person, not to the sex; for sex is holy. Mary received no command to teach, yet she has left us an example.
And so the Child was circumcised. Who is this Child, unless He of Whom it was said: a Child is born to us, a son is given to us (Is. ix. 6.). He was made under the Law, that He might redeem those Who were under the Law (Gal. iv. 4, 5). To present Him to the Lord. What it means to be presented to the Lord in Jerusalem I would explain but that I have already spoken of it in the commentary on Isaias. For He was circumcised with the vices (Gal. v. 24.), and is judged worthy to be looked upon by the Lord: the eyes of the Lord are upon the just (Ps. 33. 16). You see how every practice of the Old Law was a figure of that to come; for circumcision was a sign of the forgiveness of our sins.
But since by reason of a certain base inclination to sin, the fragility of the human body and soul is enfolded in a never ending maze of evil, the cleansing from all guilt, that shall be at the time of the resurrection, was prefigured by the circumcision on the eighth day. This was because of the saying: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord. By the words of the Law the Child of a Virgin was promised. And He was holy, because immaculate. Then, that it was He that was signified in the Law, the words that were spoken by the angel make clear: The Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
He alone of all that are born of woman is Holy: the Lord Jesus Who, in the immaculate newness of His Birth, has received no contagion of our earthly corruption; nor has He put off his celestial might. For if we adhere to the letter: how would every male be holy, since it is plain that there have been many who were very wicked? Was Achab holy? Were the false prophets holy whom, at the prayer of Elias, the Avenger of offence against heaven consumed by fire? But He is Holy Whom the sacred precepts of the divine law presignified in the figure of the Mystery that was to come; in that He alone would open the hidden womb, of unblemished fruitfulness, of the Holy Virgin Church, so as to bring to life the people of God.
He alone therefore opened the womb, for Himself. Nor is that a wonder in Him Who had said to the prophet: Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou comest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee (Jer. i. 6). He who sanctified another's womb, that a prophet might be born, He it is Who opened the womb of His own Mother, that He might come forth Immaculate. Amen.