Sermon 184

 St. Augustine


THE BIRTHDAY OF our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, on which Truth sprang forth from the earth[1] and the procession of day from day extending even unto our time began, has, with the return of its anniversary, dawned upon us today as deserving of special celebration. 'Let us be glad and rejoice therein,'[2] for the faith of Christians holds fast to the joy which the lowliness of such sublimity has offered to us, a joy far removed from the hearts of the wicked, since God has hidden these things from the wise and prudent and has revealed them to the little ones.[3] Therefore, let the lowly hold fast to the lowliness of God so that, by means of this great help as by a beast of burden supporting their infirmity, they may come to the mountain of God. The wise and prudent, however, while they aim at the heights of God, do not put their trust in lowly things, but pass them by, and hence they fail to reach the heights. Vain and worthless, puffed up and elated, they have halted, as it were, on the wind-swept middle plain between heaven and earth. Wise and prudent in the rating of this world, they fall short of the standards set by Him who made this world. For, if they possessed the true wisdom which is of God and which is God, they would understand that flesh could have been assumed by God without the possibility of His having been changed into flesh; that He took upon Himself what He was not and remained what He was; that He came to us in the form of man and yet did not depart from His Father; that He preserved His divine nature while He appeared to us in our human nature; and, finally, that power derived from no earthly source was bestowed upon an infant's body. The whole world is His work as He remains in the bosom of His Father; the miraculous child-bearing of a virgin is His work when He comes to us. In fact, His Virgin Mother has given testimony to His majesty in that she, a virgin before His conception, remained a virgin after childbirth; found with child, she was not made so by man; pregnant with man without man's co-operation, she was more blessed and marvelous in that her fecundity was granted without loss of integrity. People prefer to consider so tremendous a miracle as fictional rather than factual. Hence, in regard to Christ, the God-Man, since they cannot believe His human attributes, they despise them; since they cannot despise His divine attributes, they do not believe them. However, in proportion as the body of the God-Man in His humiliation is the more abject in their estimation, to that same degree it becomes more pleasing to us; and in proportion as the fruitfulness of a virgin in the birth of a child is more impossible in their eyes, in ours it becomes the more divine.  

(2) Hence, let us celebrate the birthday of the Lord with a joyous gathering and appropriate festivity. Let men and women alike rejoice, for Christ, the Man, was born and He was born of a woman; thus, each sex was honored. Now

let the honor accorded to the first man before his condemnation pass over to this second Man. A woman brought death upon us; a woman has now brought forth life. The likeness of our sinful flesh[4] was born so that this sinful flesh might be cleansed. Let not the flesh be blamed, but let it die to sin so that it may live by its real nature; let him who was in sin be born again in Him who was born without sin. Exult, you holy youths, who, having chosen Christ as a model eminently worthy of imitation, have not sought marriage. He whom you have thus esteemed did not come to you through marriage, so that He might bestow upon you the grace to despise the means through which you came into the world. For you came into existence through carnal union, without which He came to spiritual nuptials; and to you, whom He has called in a special way to spiritual nuptials, He has granted the grace to scorn earthly ones. Therefore, you have not sought joys from the source whence you derived existence because you, more than others, have loved Him who did not come into the world in that manner. Exult, you holy virgins. A Virgin has brought forth for you One whom you may wed without defilement, and you can lose the One whom you love neither by conceiving nor by bringing forth children. Exult, you who are just; it is the birthday of the Justifier. Exult, you who are weak and ill; it is the birthday of the Saviour. Exult, you who are captives; it is the birthday of the Redeemer. Exult, you who are slaves; it is the birthday of the Ruler. Exult, you who are free; it is the birthday of the Liberator. Exult, all Christians; it is the birthday of Christ.  

(3) This child, born of the Father, created all ages; now, born of a mother, He has commended this day. That first nativity could not possibly have had a mother, nor did the second one call for any man as a father. In a word, Christ was born of both a father and a mother, and He was born without a father and without a mother; for as God He was born of the Father and as Man He was born of a mother; as God He was born without a mother and as Man He was born without a father. Therefore, 'Who shall declare his generation?'[5] whether we consider His generation without the limits of time or that without seed; the one without a beginning or that without precedent; the; the one which has no end or that which has its beginning there where it has its end.  

Rightly, then, did the Prophets announce that He would be born; truly did the heavens and angels announce that He had been born. He who sustains the world lay in a manger, a wordless Child, yet the Word of God. Him whom the heavens do not contain the bosom of one woman bore. She ruled our King; she carried Him in whom we exist; she fed our Bread. O manifest weakness and marvelous humility in which all divinity lay hid! By His power He ruled the mother to whom His infancy was subject, and He nourished with truth her whose breasts suckled Him. May He who did not despise our lowly beginnings perfect His work in us, and may He who wished on account of us to become the Son of Man make us the sons of God.

[1] Cf. Ps. 84.12.

[2] Ps. 117.24.

[3] Cf. Matt. 11.25.

[4] Cf. Rom. 8.3.

[5] Isa. 53.8.




Adoration of the Shepherds


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