Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Circumcision, 2012
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

 

Let us pray: Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by the Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

 

There is a certain character type that appears in literature and the movies – in fact, all the media. He or she is something of a mystery. We never know much about this character, and that is part of the fascination. Such a character may be good or evil. But when the book or movie is finished, the character is still something of a mystery. Writers make a good living keeping these mysterious strangers active and, especially, elusive. There is something compelling about a fictional character who makes a brief entrance, performs a particular activity, then disappears. We never know their real identity.

 

 

As a child, I watched a certain television series. It was a western. Westerns were enormously popular during the Fifties and Sixties; they were a staple of television, just as they were a staple of our own cultural history. Or what we imagined that history to be. At the end of each program in the series, after our cowboy hero had done his good deed for the week, he would ride off on his beautiful horse. He would say his goodbyes and ride into the distance, never to appear in that neck of the woods ever again. Those who were left behind scratched their heads in wonder. Invariably, one of them asked: "Who was that masked man?" Those of us in the know would sometimes say: "That was Clayton Moore, silly." But most people would simply know him as The Lone Ranger, the brave but reclusive honest cowboy who always triumphed over evil. No one knew very much about this cowboy, not even his real name. To make things even more mysterious, he wore a mask.

 

 

But fiction is not the only place where such characters exist. We all have known or read about people who somehow hide their identities. Perhaps they take on another identity, creating an entirely new persona. Identity is such an important thing that most of us guard our identities, protecting ourselves from identity theft. Identity theft is a term that was unknown just a few years ago.

 

 

Identity is necessary. Identity tells others who we are. Identity is more than our social security numbers and our drivers licenses and our passports. It is much more than the credit cards we carry or the cars we drive or the television programs we watch – or the ones we refuse to watch. Identity is who we are in the eyes of God. Identity is about the gifts we have received from God and the purpose God has intended for us to accomplish.

 

 

Jesus had a unique and individual identity. Though he may have been born in a stable, unhonored and unknown, he had a very specific heritage, one that was both human and divine. His parents were Jewish. And, in the custom of the Jewish people, the child was taken to the Temple on the eighth day, ritually circumcised and given the name, "Jesus." Jesus had a very specific human identity. Jesus had a very specific cultural and religious background. Jesus never attempted to hide his identity, to deceive people by wearing a mask or a disguise of any kind. Jesus is who he is, a very identifiable human being.

 

 

That is one essential element in the life of Jesus Christ: the truth of his being. His birth and early life as a Jewish child is so based in reality that it cannot be denied. Jesus is no elusive stranger who will do good deeds, teach a few lessons and ride off into the far horizon never to be seen again. He is with us always, seeking always to teach us the love that can come only from God.

 

 

Another name for this particular day is the Holy Name or the Holy Name of Jesus. It reminds us that Jesus has a name, just as we all do. He is called by name, just as we are called by name. There is great power in the naming of a child. It is a name that will become part of a child for all of its life. It is precious to the one who is named and to those who will name a child. Parents often spend a great deal of time considering possible names for a newborn. Sometimes relatives are contacted for their opinions, which are often ignored.

 

 

In the early days of our country's history, families were large. Having a dozen or more children was not unusual. But when the usual names were taken, some parents faced a dilemma. "What shall we name our child? After all, ten Ebenezers have been born this year alone." That's when they might have resorted to the Bible. The family decided to leave it all to God. Perhaps the family patriarch would open the Bible, cast his eyes toward heaven and point, sight unseen, to a page. Whatever name appeared under his finger would be the name of the newborn child. That would be the child's identity. Sometimes, this strategy would work out well. At other times, of course, the strategy would fail completely. Children might one day wonder why they had been named after an adjective or an adverb.

 

 

But the name of Jesus was chosen by God and affirmed by his earthly parents. His name was his name from the beginning of time. And it would be recognized forever. His name would ever after be his identity. Jesus would never seek to hide his identity or to wear a mask to fool people into thinking he was someone else. Jesus is fully God and fully man. And no one can ever steal that identity.

 

 

Let us pray: O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of the glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.