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Hallo again to all.

Sad tree.We woke up early on Saint Stephen's Day this year—Boxing Day for much of the world—to fill up our car with gas and to visit distant relatives. In the clear light of the second day of Christmas, one of the things that struck us most was the number of Christmas trees that had already been put out on curbs as garbage. Some had their lights and decorations still attached, but others were picked clean, their adornments stashed away to wait another year. In either case, the poor trees—and the people who tossed them—were being done a sad disservice. They were missing out on the full twelve days of Christmastide, a season dear to us, full of observances and feasts small and large.

Sad tree two and three.The notion that Christmas is really twelve whole days long is not so much about ritual rectitude as about being careful to get all the joy out of a festal season that God has given us. The Real Ultimate Christmastide™ tends to be overlooked because the five or six weeks leading up to it have been dominated by Santa Claus, commercialism, Bing Crosby, tinsel and snowmen. But now Christmas is here, and we write from within it on the cusp of the celebration of one of its greatest feasts—the Feast of the Circumcision, known in most of the sanitized world today as the Feast of the Holy Name, or the Naming and Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The first feast day of the year is one we have tended to miss ourselves on account of staying up too late on the night before to be able to get to church on time. It is also one that tends to be overlooked because of its focus on what has been called the most controversial surgical procedure in history. The Circumcision of Christ is elided by Bible-readers and many preachers because it strikes us as culturally inappropriate, strange, unfamiliarly Jewish, or something we just don't want to talk about. (The day probably passes unnoticed on the calendar for most.) It also has an oddly paschal note—the newborn Saviour already shedding blood—within what liturgists will tell us is the natal cycle of feasts along with the Annunciation, Presentation and Visitation et al.

The circumcision of Christ.Yet this feast tells us something we need to know: that in the midst of this divine, salvific life—new life, vibrant, joyous—there is humanity, particularity, bleeding and pain. Gentle Jesus meek and mild will tomorrow, as a son of Abraham, become a son of the law through the ritual cutting of his flesh. This was a favourite text for medieval and renaissance preachers, and as the pioneering, fascinating research of Leo Steinberg has shown, it was a common motif in pre-modern and early modern Christian art. It cemented the seriousness, the completeness, the costliness, of God's incarnation as a Jewish boy. It clarified beyond all question that God really was here to be with us in every aspect of our lives as a real human being. John Keble joins the throng of those who look deeply into this feast and find its joy:

Look here, and hold thy peace:
The Giver of all good
Even from the womb takes no release
From suffering, tears, and blood.

If thou wouldst reap in love,
First sow in holy fear:
So life a winter’s morn may prove
To a bright endless year.

There is joy in this hidden season, this hidden feast, for all those who will find it. What's more, there is Good News on this hinge of years tonight that Jesus Christ has come to be the hinge between our humanity and God's divinity. Christmas is not over, and God's love has just begun. Rejoice!

Whether or not any of us make it to church tomorrow on 'a winter's morn', a blessed feast of the circumcision—and a blessed 2007—to all of you from all of us. For the second time in five weeks, Happy New Year.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 31 December 2006

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