”On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.” (NIV, Luke 2:21). The eight day old baby is named Jesus. Jesus is the Greek translation in our Bibles, for the name he would have been called by people on that day – ‘Yeshua’.
Yeshua is circumcised like thousands of Jewish boys before him. He followed an ancient tradition given by God in Genesis 17. The Lord says to Abraham: ”This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.” (NIV, Genesis 17:10) It was to be a sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. This sign was one of great value, a sign of continuity – from Yeshua all the way back to Abraham and the other males in his household who were the first to be circumcised (17:27). A sign of continuity. A sign of tradition. Something old, you could say.
As we are about to enter the second month of 2019, can I ask a question?
What customs, traditions, did you develop in 2018, that you are planning to continue in 2019, or perhaps are already continuing as January comes to an end?
Family habits? Healthy work or study habits? Spiritual practices that have helped nourish your relationship with the Lord? Sometimes what is old, what are ‘traditions’ for us – what nourishes, shapes us – we need to choose to protect and continue, as well as consider what new things to do or what to change as the year continues.
Through circumcision, his parents, Joseph and Mary, by making this choice, state Yeshua, their son, is within the covenant people. However, Yeshua / Jesus is the one to fulfil the covenants God has made, we learn. He is about the old and the new. As that eight day old lay there, the people who gathered (circumcision was usually a public event) could have said, as Matthew describes Jesus (Matthew 1:1): ”This was a son of Abraham and a son of David,” (a boy within David’s line). ‘A son of Abraham’, stating his Jewish identity. And true Jewish bloodline mattered in those times. Herod the Great – the king in the times when Jesus is born, and who would later to try to kill him (as we heard a few weeks ago on Epiphany Sunday) – he was not a popular king. He was half Edomite – not a true blood Jewish king. Herod had the official records destroyed so no one could prove and dispute his lineage, for he claimed to be a true blood king.
But that word ‘Abraham’ carries more weight. It recalls the Abrahamic promise that through Abraham’s descendant would come blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3, 22:17-18). Jesus is the one through whom blessing will come to the whole world, (see Acts 3:24-26). He will fulfil the covenant promise. Yeshua / Jesus is fulfilling God’s plan declared over 3000 years ago!
Jesus is ‘a son of David’ – not only of the tribe of Judah but also of the line of David. Yet that name, ‘David’ recalls the other great covenant – made by the Lord God with David centuries before. Recorded in 2 Samuel 7:8-13, King David is promised that one of his descendants would reign from an eternal throne. Jesus is that promised King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Christ.
The baby who has been circumcised, he fulfils these key covenants, which are cornerstones of Jewish faith. Something new came.
So this year, 2019, what is new or will be new? A few weeks ago, we celebrated the beautiful marriage of David and Danielle! They will need our support and prayers as they adjust to and enjoy married life in Utrecht. We will see in the coming year, before the summer, that All Saints will become an independent self standing self governing chaplaincy. We pray for All Saints as it prepares for this change. We are also mindful across Europe, there is 1.2 million British ex-patriots affected by the ongoing uncertainity of Brexit. We do continue to pray for those individuals as March 29th approaches. And we pray for the many in our nation of the Netherlands who will be affected by Brexit – perhaps they work in companies whose business deals greatly with the UK, or who retired here and no longer what is the right decision whether to stay or return. A new time approaches for our continent of Europe.
But for you? What is new or will be new for you in 2019 – in career, church involvements, work, family, studies? And what needs to be new? What no longer works, what needs to change? In relationships? In work-life balance?
In our spiritual lives what needs to change? Do certain spiritual practices no longer nourish us? At times we feel we need to try harder spiritually. But perhaps instead we need to try and do things differently? Is it times of silence? Is it solitude? Is it time in ‘God’s cathedral’ – in creation? Is it increased times of celebration (singing worship hymns and songs)? Is it engaging more with Christian art or other elements that tap into and engage with our senses?
And as we look ahead, what is the Lord calling of us in 2019? Lots of questions here! Do we assume, that things continue as they are… old? Or is the Lord calling new things of us in this year? Is he inviting us into new areas of commitment within our congregation or an invitation to grow deeper with him in a particular way? How could he be calling you into joining in with his work? ”As the Father sent me, so I send you.” John 20:21 reminds us, in Jesus’ words, that we join in with the work of God.
So one task can be to set aside quality time – with friends if that works for you (some of us find it hard to be alone and instead we need to talk or pray with others), or alone if that works. To consider our walk with the Lord.
As we do this, can I suggest a prayer to reflect upon, which is from the English Methodist tradition.
When I worked in England, we had close links with the Methodist Church, (the Methodist Church grew out of the Church of England in the 19th century). Many Methodist Churches – in the UK certainly – usually on the first Sunday of January hold a ‘Covenant Service’. This service has two elements. A celebration of God’s faithfulness and what he has done – in the congregation and personally, within and through and around the believers. But also it is seen as a time to renew our own personal covenant – a covenant, is in effect, an agreement between two parties – to renew and restate our personal commitment to the Lord. In one way we are always in relationship with the Lord. On the other hand, as we begin each day, God is inviting us to commit ourselves to him afresh, anew, to believe, trust and follow. For most of us, each day, it is a subconcious act of commitment. We keep on keeping on!
The Covenant Service is that moment in the Methodist Church Year, for Christians to consciously commit themselves afresh to the Lord.
The main prayer the service uses, is:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen
It is a way we accept afresh the relationship the Lord offers. It is about putting God first in our lives, about being a disciple. As we see from the words, it is very challenging. However, note it’s words towards the end – ”you are mine and I am yours.” These words remind us that we do all our discipleship not in our strength but in a close relationship with the Lord, seeking his help, through his Spirit.
It is worth taking time to reflect upon this prayer. To consider its words, what it asks of us, can we pray it? What jumps out at you? What would you find easy to say? What would you find difficult to say? How might it apply to your whole life?
So as January comes to an end, can we set aside time in the weeks ahead, to prayerfully consider: what is on God’s heart for you the year ahead? To seek that the Lord’s thoughts would be sown in our thoughts. To seek that his plans would be our plans, whether they are old or new, whether his plans are continuing what has gone before, or are something new. Whether we follow the traditions or the past or he is inviting us into change. Maybe he affirms what we already do. Maybe he shows us the next stage, next step.
But we do all this, confident in those helpful Methodist words:
”And now, glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. Amen.”
Revd Grant Crowe.
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