8th Day of Christmas — January 1

Illustration in the Menologion of Basil II (c. 980)

Bible connection

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

In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. – Colossians 2:11-15

All about the circumcision

New Year’s Day is also, among other things, the traditional Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. As today’s reading notes, on the eighth day after his birth, Joseph and Mary  had Jesus circumcised in line with the command given to Abraham to do this as a sign of the covenant God made with him and his descendants. On this occasion Jesus was given the name the angel Gabriel had given Mary: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” The circumcision of Jesus was first time Jesus shared humanity’s suffering as he was made part of the people of Israel, subject to the Law of Moses.

But as the second of today’s readings shows, the “eighth day” has a larger meaning that includes all of us in a new “circumcision.” The resurrection of Jesus was the first day of the renewal of creation!—”He is risen” echoes the Creator’s voice over the void: “Let there be light.” Jesus rose on the first day of the week which became the first day of the new creation. This first day coincides with the day of the week he was circumcised, the eighth day.

Paul makes meaning out of how these days go together. Like Jesus lost some foreskin to be made a member of the Old Covenant, all of us who are raised with Jesus lose the record of our sin, kept by the law. What’s more, we lose the domination of the rule of evil, kept at bay by the Lord’s triumph. We live in a New Covenant. From the blade to his foreskin to the blade in his side, the blood of Jesus we drink makes us one with him as he became one with us.  We lose our death and are remade alive in Christ. This is the main reason we keep the first day special each week. It is the first day when Christ rose, but it is also the eighth day when we, and creation, were born again and named the children of God.

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love sent to me…Eight maids a-milking.

The wonder of being new with Jesus is especially good news for the poor, who always get the worst treatment by the law and the rulers. It is the poor who enter the children’s song we have been exploring on this day:  “Eight maids” is an odd present and watching them milk would make an odd parade float. It implies a herd which requires a lot of servants; so that is quite a gift to poor farmers!!

In the “secret” meaning of the song, the catechists were supposedly teaching children to remember the eight “beatitudes” (Matthew 5:3-10):  Blessed are 1) the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

At the time this ditty was written, there was no job much lower than working in the barn. A female servant used as a milker meant she did not have much value to her master.  But as today’s reading shows, she has a master who values her with his very life! Jesus disarms the authorities, and the poor are especially blessed. Today they lead the Christmas parade.

What do we do with this?

Pray: Jesus the poor and Jesus the risen, lead me into the fullness of the eighth day.

We love the idea of memorizing the beatitudes. Have you ever done that?

The first day/eighth day symbolism is rich. In an era when capitalism runs 24/7 and doesn’t really care what day it is, we lose the rhythm of the earth and our own bodies. We don’t keep the weekly marker of the Sabbath and often lose the value of holy days and seasons. Today might be a good day (or at least sometime this week) to mark the calendar with the times you don’t want to miss this year. This could include the birthdays of your friends and family, but it would certainly include the birthday of Jesus and the new creation! How about organizing the coming year around your life in Christ as a member of the body rather than trying to fit that meaning into your “time off?”

Be poor: a helpless baby being cut according to an arbitrary principle, a milkmaid stuck in the barn, a human accosted by the rulers of the air and the age. Those are the kind of people who get saved. Be risen. Be saved.

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