2008January1, Tuesday

On the First Day of the Year

Posted in History, The Church at 13:36 by Trey Austin

As is noted in the collect i quoted earlier today, New Year’s Day is the day of our Lord’s circumcision. I find it very interesting that Christians universally (now) recognize Christ’s circumcision day as the first day of the year. There had been Christian nations that celebrated the Nativity (December 25) as the first day of the year, some celebrated the Annunciation (i.e., the conception) of Christ (March 25), but over time, one week after the Nativity became universally recognized as the first day of the year. Sure, January 1 was the first day of the New Roman Calendar (i.e., the Julian Calendar), the much more prevalent pagan practice was to celebrate the beginning of the year in March. So, the sometime Christian disagreement on what to recognize as the first day of the year shows that the subsequent agreement to mark the beginning of the year from 1 January was thoughtful.

So, why mark the beginning of the year from the day on which Christ’s circumcision was celebrate? It seems to me that, even if implicit or unintentional, there is something really Covenantal going on in such a celebration. Did Christ’s earthly life begin at December 25 (assuming that was the date on which he was actually born)? Not at all. It actually began nine months earlier, when he was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the Virgin’s womb. But his life as Savior, sanctifying the Law of God and redeeming those under the Law and those not under the Law by fulfilling the Law began when his flesh was cut, and he shed his blood for the first time. This is as Covenantal as you can get. Christ’s blood is the blood of the Covenant, and this was the beginning of his work that would culminate in the full and final sacrifice. This is because circumcision is the Covenantal dedication of that which is circumcized, recognizing that if part is dedicated to the Lord, then the whole thing is (cf., tithing, firstfruits, redemption of the firstborn, &c.), and it is also the binding of the one circumcized to fulfill the Covenant God has entered into with him, or else be cut off just the way the dedicated part of him was cut off—either way, he belongs wholly and only to the Lord of the Covenant, whether obedient or disobedience, for good or for bad, for salvation or condemnation. It is fitting, then, that the Christian calendar (i.e., Anno Domini) would begin, not with the birth, nor even with the conception, but with the Covenantal dedication of our Lord Christ.

This, of course, i believe, has strong implications on where we view the beginning of the Covenantal life of each individual Christian. Just as Christ’s life as Savior of the world began with his circumcision as a member of God’s Church, so our life under the Lordship of that same Christ begins with our baptism into membership in the Church (through which God accomplishes, as he so pleases, and at the time he chooses, the circumcision made without hands in our hearts). In other words, because we cannot know when the Spirit moves and does what he does in the hearts of individuals, we must treat people Covenantally, marking the beginning of their lives at the point of their baptism.

A new era in the history of the world began when Christ was circumcized, and so a new era of our own personal history in the world begins when we are baptized. That is where we should look when asked about the beginning of our new life. Everything else—even subsequent conversion and true embracing of Christ by faith—are all simply our coming to grips with the fact that we belong to the Lord, our Redeemer, and with what we have vowed to do in our baptism.

So, as this New Year begins, let us remember Christ’s circumcision and reflect upon the new life we have in him, looking also in fear, knowing that we may be cut off if we do not love him truly and sincerely as our faithful God and Savior.

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