Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem.
One of the most beautiful things about the mysteries of our faith is that, even though we return to them year after year, they can be as fresh and amazing as the first time we heard of them, if only we turn our hearts to them with humility and love. Christmas is no exception. The birth of the Son of God in the flesh is as astounding to the angels today as it was on that cold night in Bethlehem. Since there is nothing to distract them, nothing to weary them, they entered a state of never-ending wonder which we too can share in on this cold day in California.
In the undying splendor of heaven, the Son of God proceeds without beginning or end from His eternal Father. Equal in dignity, united perfectly in one godhead, They with Their Holy Spirit are enthroned in majesty, encircled with glory, streaming with power. They are infinitely raised in perfection above the choirs of angels, whose multitude is so vast that they render material creatures but few, whose variety is so broad material things all look the same, and whose knowledge is so piercing they almost can’t believe the race of men is also possessed of intellect. But when God the Father finished creating the angels, the Son looking at Him said, “Is that all?” And the Father replied, “Well, you gotta stop somewhere.”
And yet, for us men and our salvation, the Son did not hesitate to take upon Himself a state in which virtually no one recognized Him, nobody who mattered offered Him homage except a virgin and a carpenter. Even for God, mom and dad matter. This is His humility. His Apostle would later describe this moment thus: “Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself.”
That year was for the Jews an annus horribilis—a horrible year. The “Divine Augustus” in Rome had mandated a census, which not only reinforced the fact of a foreign potentate bossing them around but also reminded them of the horrible punishments meted out to Israel when King David had offered a like affront to God’s prerogatives. And it meant upheaval and relocation. In the meantime, the unspeakably cruel Herod the so-called Great, also not a Jew, still sat on the vassal throne. No prophets were in sight. The ruling priests were well known atheists. And there was no room at the inn.
And the Lord Jesus, stripped of heavenly glory, descending to the lowest low of creation, humbled—to the stupor of the angelic host—appeared on earth as the beginning of His work of salvation.
2020 was described here on Sunday also as an annus horribilis—a horrible year. There were those who took every mishap from January 1st onward as a sign that it was a year best forgotten. The plandemic. The tyrannical governor. The election debacle. The scattered sheep forbidden from their restful waters and green pastures. The sublime worship of the Church reduced to a backyard service. In every way, the side of the angels was humiliated.
But we call it 2020 anno Domini, anno redemptionis—in the year of the Lord, in the year of redemption—for good reason. God’s power is made perfect in and through weakness. This too is a year of redemption, a year of favor from the Lord, a year in which He works out His marvelous plan to save the human race. Like the crucifixion, that plan can be agonizing in its details, but it is glorious in its effects.
For if, in the midst of all these fetters to the progress of good, still men’s love for God is purified, souls are rendered more virtuous, and Jesus is born again in men’s hearts, then our own return to the poverty and humiliation and obscurity of Bethlehem, even by celebrating Mass in this humble courtyard, can play no less a part in the divine plan than did that little town so long ago.
Let us rejoice, then, in our Christian dignity, the dignity of being a people who constantly return to our origins. We do not know what change in externals God has planned for 2021, but we know that, although He can effect as complete a reversal as He did this year, by far more important than the earthly status of our rights is our complete fidelity to the least and most mundane everyday grace. And that grace today is to rejoice, to rejoice with others, to help others rejoice in the renewed fulfillment of God’s greatest promise.
We are all of us here this morning to celebrate the rising of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. This is not a metaphorical event, a wish of believers transposed onto reality, but the real reunion of His human soul returning from Limbo with His human body lying in the Holy Sepulcher. It is into this historical event that we are incorporated, that we partake and claim as our own identity, through holy baptism.
Rising from the dead is an experience not just of Christ on Easter morning, nor of mankind as a whole on the Last Day, but of everyone who, like the women in the Gospel, departs from the tomb, the place needed on account of sin’s just punishment; departs from the death of sin through the mercy and forgiveness of Christ; departs quickly because we should never delay our conversion or dawdle in our iniquity.
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