“Almighty God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”The Epistle: Romans 4. 8-14 The Gospel: St Luke 2.15-21
The Book of Common Prayer (1662) makes no special provision for the Second Sunday after Christmas (which occurs 4 out of 7 times), but directs that what is provided for the Feast of the Circumcision be used on this day also and up to the Feast of the Epiphany. Editions of the Prayer Book since 1928 do, however, usually provide Propers for the Second Sunday (see e.g., the PECUSA Prayer Book of 1928).
The Collect is addressed to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by adoption and grace is also our Father. Circumcision was the entrance into the covenant of the Law (Genesis 17:12) and to receive it implied taking on the whole obligation of the Law. It was the Father’s will that his Incarnate Son should, as one born of a woman and under the Law, submit to that Law. Thus “when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus” (Luke 2:21). Yet he did not submit to the Law for his own sake, but for ours in order to fulfill in our place our debt to the whole Law of God, ceremonial and moral. He was born to be our Representative and Substitute, whether we be Jew or Gentile. And the shedding of the drops of blood at his circumcision point to the greater shedding of his precious blood for us at Calvary, thirty or so years later.
In the light of this crucial doctrine about the Incarnation, Circumcision and Obedience (active & passive) of Christ Jesus, we earnestly pray for an internal gift of grace, the true circumcision of the Spirit. Not the old circumcision of the flesh but “circumcision of the heart, in the spirit” (Romans 2:28-29). That is, we ask for the action of the Holy Spirit upon our spirits that energized by heavenly power we shall be enabled to cut away all sinful desires from our hearts and to put them to death (mortified – see Colossians 3:15). For it is only when the power of evil desires and habits is dispelled from the various faculties and recesses of the soul, that we are able seriously to obey the will of the Lord, our God, in the name of his blessed Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus, when spiritually circumcised and whether male or female, we are able to present out bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God (Romans 12:1). Hands, cleansed and ready to work on God’s assignments; feet, washed and ready to run his errands of mercy and love; eyes, purified from lust, ready to meditate upon and contemplate God’s works and words; ears, cleansed of flattery and enticement, ready to hear the voice of God and the cry of the needy; the tongue, mortified of evil speech and idle words, ready to praise the Lord – in all a living sacrifice!
It seems that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer created this Collect not by translating the Collect in the Sarum Use, but by using and adopting the Latin benediction for this feast. Translated this Benediction runs, “Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son on this day received bodily circumcision, purify your minds by the spiritual circumcision from every allurement of vice, …”
In conclusion, even as the Litany joins together the Nativity (“made of a woman”) and the Circumcision (“made under the law”), so let us celebrate these Events by our faithful use of this Collect to the salvation of our souls and the redemption of our bodies.
Note: the Collect provided in 1928 in the C. of. E. as an addition specifically for the Second Sunday after Christmas is:
Almighty God, who didst wonderfully create man in thine own image, and didst yet more wonderfully restore him: Grant, we beseech thee, that as thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ was made in the likeness of men, so we may be made partakers of the divine nature; through the same thy Son, who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.Epistle: 2 Corinthians 8:9 Gospel: John 1:14-16
In the same year the American Church authorized a different Collect and readings:
Almighty God, who has poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word: Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Epistle: Isaiah 61:1-3 Gospel: St Matthew 2:19-23
Postscript --- the first day of the civil year in 1662 was March 25 and so January 1st is only a Feast Day.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)