Ninth Day of Christmas: A Sign Seals Covenant

January 3, 2014

When I found out it was lung cancer that was making me sick, a friend from church wrote a sweet note saying, “Welcome to the club nobody wants to join.” In the ensuing days and weeks, others who have traveled this road have come to my attention, sharing from their experiences and welcoming me into a community of people with survivor instincts. Their words of advice and comfort have been particularly meaningful to me.

I have also discovered in this process that milestones must be celebrated with some kind of ritual, just for fun, yes, but to mark progress and to acknowledge what is happening. For instance, the night before I started chemo, we enjoyed fellowship with friends—among them several Presbyterian elders— who gather monthly for “family dinner.” They laid hands on me and prayed for the success of my treatment, according to James 5:13-15. (Prayers are being answered!) Last night I celebrated the end of Round 2 and its after-effects by going to a movie, my first one in months, and I didn’t fall asleep midway through! Woo-hoo! Moments like this must be marked, and we will continue the practice until cancer is a thing of the past in my life. When that day arrives, we’re throwing one heck of a party, I promise you.

Rituals and celebrations are a part of human experience, and this is nothing new. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ nativity, the angel pointed to an important Jewish milestone: on the eighth day after his birth, Jesus would be circumcised and officially named. Luke’s report was short and sweet:  “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).

Circumcision at age eight days was ordained by God as a sign of the covenant between the chosen people Israel and God (Genesis 17:12). A particular scar marked those (males) who were dedicated to the Lord and welcomed into the household of faith. The mark was permanent and personal, individualizing the commitment of a people to YHWH. It would be fitting for God’s Son (and his earthly parents) to seal the proper understanding of Jesus’ role in God’s salvation by doing this. To omit it would have rendered his identity as “chosen” unrecognizable to the people he would be reaching as an adult.

Taking this formal opportunity to name the child was also part of the ritual. Some say waiting eight days before naming was recognition of the possibility the child might not survive birth; but after the first perilous eight days, it was now okay to embrace and welcome the baby. I’m not sure this is really the reason; I am more apt to take the Lord’s command at face value, which would put circumcision not in a utilitarian context but a faith-expressing context. It was one’s first rite of obedience to Almighty God. The naming of a child identifies him as a child of the covenant, set apart from the world unto the Lord in faith and service. This idea, by the way, is carried forward into Christian baptism of male and female infants, according to the Reformed Tradition.

Later, Jesus would be baptized with John’s water baptism at the Jordan River. At that time, Jesus would be identified as God’s Son (“with whom I am well pleased”) and propelled into ministry as a result (Luke 3:21f; 4:1-19). This practice carries forward the idea that with chosen-ness comes commission; to be named Yeshua (God saves) indicates Christ’s calling as the Messiah and Savior, which required obedient action on his part throughout his lifetime, culminating of course in his sacrifice on the Cross for our sins.

And so it is with us. When we were named “Christian” at baptism and confession of our faith (either concurrently or as two separate events), we were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, a circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). It is important for Christian adults to mark important moments in their faith development to keep track of their spiritual progress. These are dates of our choosing, not those dictated by Law. They might include what the church has called confirmation; but even birthdays will do, or days in the church year, or reception as a new member in a congregation. Holy days on your personal Christian calendar might include those occasions when you made a new faith commitment in service or ministry (like ordination) or upon the birth of your own child, a commitment to faithful Christian parenting. These moments carry all the way to our deaths, when in the company of the saints we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and his faithfulness in the life of this one believer. The need for “ritual” to mark realities also has included in the Catholic Church the “sacrament of the sick,” or the anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, and the prayer for those who suffer illness. It is that lovely action that I fully appreciate, now that I am sick and in need of signs of progress. I for one look forward to the next “family dinner” that will occur the night before Round 3 of chemo begins January 13. Let the celebration begin!



3 Responses to “Ninth Day of Christmas: A Sign Seals Covenant”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    Thank you for this message and all your blogs, RevMary, which I am pleased to share with others [engaging the process and leaving the product to God]. Just one additional remark: Getting outta the house indeed carries healing properties. ‘Tis wonderful you enjoyed a movie with family and I’m praying you enjoy many more such outings while angels surround you as the medicine does its job.

  2. L. Lee Says:

    Rev Mary,

    Thanks for sharing. Just want you to know how much your
    sharing means to me and to so many. Praying for you too.

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