Sermon 190

 St. Augustine


(1) Our Lord Jesus, who was with the Father before He was born of His Mother, chose not only the Virgin of whom He was born, but also the day on which His birth took place. Men subject to error very often choose days: one for planting, another for building, another for making a journey, and still another for contracting marriage. When a man so chooses, he is motivated by the hope that successful issue may come from his undertaking. No one, however, can choose the day of his birth. But Christ the Lord was able both to create and to select the day of His birth. Nor did He make His choice as they do who foolishly determine the fates of men by the arrangement of the stars. He who was born was not rendered blessed by being born on a particular day, but He made that day blessed on which He deigned to be born. The day of His nativity holds the mystery of His light, for the Apostle says: 'The night is far advanced; the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly as in the day.'[1] Let us recognize the day and let us be as the day, for we were in darkness when we lived unfaithfully. Since that infidelity which had covered the whole world with the darkness of night had to be lessened by an increase of faith, therefore, on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, night began to suffer diminution and day began to increase. And so, my brethren, let us hold this day as sacred, not as unbelievers do because of the material sun, but because of Him who made the sun. For, He who was the Word became flesh so that for our sake He might live under the light of the sun. He was incarnate beneath the sun, but in majesty He was above the entire universe in which He had placed the sun. Now, in truth, even in the flesh He is above the sun which is worshiped as a god by those who, blinded in mind, do not see the true Sun of Justice.


(2) Let us, O Christians, celebrate this feast, not of the divine nativity of the Lord, but of His human nativity when He became one of us so that through the invisible made visible we might pass to the invisible from the visible. For we of the Catholic faith ought to hold that there are two births of the Lord: the one divine, and the other human; the one timeless, and the other in time. Both nativities are marvelous: the one, without a mother; and the other, without a father. If the one is incomprehensible, the other is inexplicable. Who could understand this strange, extraordinary happening, unique in the history of the world, wherein the unbelievable became believable and in unbelievable fashion was entrusted to the whole world; namely, that a virgin would conceive and would bear and bring forth a Son, while remaining a virgin? What human reason does not grasp faith lays hold on; and where human reason fails faith succeeds. For who would say that the Word of God, by whom all things were made, could not have taken flesh even without a mother, just as He made the first man without father and mother? However, since He had created both sexes, that is, male and female, He wished to honor, in His birth, both sexes which He had come to save. You know well that the first man fell because the Serpent, not daring to address the man, used the help of a woman to encompass man's ruin. Through the weaker sex he gained the stronger and, worming his way in through the one, he triumphed over both. Therefore, so that we would not be able to shudder with a sentiment of justifiable grief at our death in this woman, Eve, and to believe ourselves irreparably condemned, when the Lord came to seek what was lost, He wished to approve both sexes by honoring both because both had been ruined. In regard to neither sex, then, should we do injury to the Creator; the nativity of the Lord encouraged both to hope for salvation. The glory of the male sex is in the humanity of Christ; the glory of womanhood is in the Mother of Christ. The grace of Jesus Christ has worsted the wile of the Serpent.


(3) Therefore, let both sexes be reborn in Him who was born today and let both celebrate this feast on which the Lord Christ, far from beginning to exist since He had always existed with His Father brought forth into the light of day the human nature which He had received from His Mother when He granted her fertility without depriving her of integrity. He is conceived and born; He is an Infant. Who is this Infant whom we so call because He is not able to speak? He is both a speechless Child and He is the Word. In His humanity, He is silent; through His angels, He teaches. The Leader and Shepherd of shepherds is announced to shepherds, and the food of the faithful lies in the manger of dumb beasts. For the Prophet had predicted: 'The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib.'[2] For that reason He sat upon the colt of an ass when He entered Jerusalem amid the praises of the multitude surging around and before Him.[3] Let us understand; let us draw near to the manger; let us eat of this food; let us bear the Lord, our Guide and Leader so that under His direction we may come to the heavenly Jerusalem. The birth of Christ from His Mother is subject to human weakness, but from His Father He has unlimited majesty. In these fleeting days of ours He lives for a brief span but He is the Eternal Day born of Eternal Day.


Rightly, then, are we stirred by the voice of the Psalmist as by the sound of a heavenly trumpet, when we hear: 'Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle: sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing ye to the Lord and bless His name.'[4] Let us recognize, then, and proclaim the 'Day born of the Day' who became incarnate on this day. The Day is the Son born of the Father, the Eternal Day, God of God, Light of Light; He is our Salvation, of whom the Psalmist says elsewhere: 'May God have mercy on us, and bless us: may He cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us ... That we may know thy way upon earth: thy salvation in all nations.'[5] The idea expressed in 'upon the earth' he expanded to 'in all nations' and the significance of 'thy way' he repeated in 'thy salvation.' We recall that the Lord Himself said: 'I am the way.'[6] And only recently, when the Gospel was read, we heard that the thrice-blessed old man, Simeon, had received a divine promise that he would not experience death until he had seen Christ the Lord and that, when he had taken the infant Christ into his hands and had recognized the mighty little One, he said: 'Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation.'[7] Gladly, then, let us announce His salvation, this Day born of the Eternal Day, let us declare 'his glory among the Gentiles: his wonders among all people.'[8] He lies in a manger but He holds the world in His hand; he is nourished at the breast but He feeds the angels; He is wrapped in swaddling clothes but He clothes us with immortality; He is suckled but is adored; He does not find room in the inn but He makes a temple for Himself in the hearts of believers. For Strength took on weakness that weakness might become strong. Therefore, let us marvel at rather than despise His human birth; from it let us learn the lowliness which such loftiness assumed for our sake. Then let us enkindle our love so that we may come to His eternal day.

[1] Rom. 13.12.

[2] Isa. 1.3.

[3] Cf. Matt. 21:9.

[4] Ps, 95.1-3.

[5] Ps. 66.2.

[6] John 14.6.

[7] Luke 2.29-31.

[8] Ps. 95.2-4.


Adoration of the Shepherds


All rights reserved.

Top of page