Happy 2021! And Merry Christmas! And a Blessed Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus! We often think of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as purely secular affairs. If we haven’t already put away our decorations, we are starting to make plans to do so. All the “best of” lists have been published (something of a challenge for 2020 in all categories) and the holiday music has been shelved for another year. Maybe we are starting to commit to resolutions and look ahead to post-holiday business. The party, whatever it looked like for us this year, is over.
And…it’s still Christmas! We remain in the season of Christmas until next Wednesday, January 6th, when we celebrate Epiphany and move into a time focused on God’s manifestation. In the middle of the twelve days of Christmas, on a day when much of the world is greeting a new calendar year, the church tucks in a feast. Today we commemorate the naming and circumcision of Jesus, which in his Jewish faith would have happened eight days after his birth.
The Episcopal Church has only recognized this feast day since 1979, but its history goes back to the Council of Tours in 587. At that time, the feast day was named and observed as an intentional counter to pagan celebrations of the new year. So the feast on this day joins the marking of Christmas on December 25th as an attempt by the church to take pagan/secular festivities and re-frame them in the context of the Christian story.
It’s tempting to think of the meeting of sacred and secular as a competition. That the sacred is minimized if the secular was “there first,” or that the secular might be threatened with appropriation by the sacred. But the existence of all these layers of celebration doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. It probably can’t be, even if we want it to be!
Christians interpret the world through the lens of Holy Scripture and mark the days with the cycle of the liturgical year. That interpretation and that cycle have always been informed by the contexts in which the faithful have lived. God uses the details of those contexts to bring luster and depth to the story, and to our embodiment of the truths we find there. The greater the religious/cultural/experiential mosh pit, the more opportunities for access. God works within all of it, beckoning to us along many paths.
In all the paths God places before us this year, I pray that each of us experiences a blessed and joyful 2021.