- Sunday, December 23, 2012
Mic. 5:2-5a • Canticle 3 or 15 or Ps. 80:1-7 • Heb. 10:5-10 • Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)
There is a sadness which, like the second death, feels fixed and eternal. “You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have given them bowls of tears to drink” (Ps. 80:5). Religion offers a measured consolation. If we follow the laws and the statutes and the ordinances, if we make sacrifice for sins through priestly hands, God will be good, God will be merciful. Our guilt and misery will be assuaged. We may dance briefly for the joy of temporary relief, but still the old man, subject to the Father of lies, lives right where we live. All liturgical and sacrificial ceremony is a momentary help, not insignificant for that reason, but assigned to a place and time. Consider this. During his famous trip to Rome, “Luther climbed Pilate’s stairs on hands and knees repeating a Pater Noster for each one and kissing each step for good measure in the hope of delivering a soul from purgatory. At the top Luther raised himself and exclaimed, not as legend would have it, ‘The just will live by faith!’ What he said was, ‘Who knows whether it is so?’” (Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand, p. 38). Rising, no doubt, he consumed again the bread of tears, drank again a chalice of sorrow.
Of this we can be certain. We have no strength within ourselves to help ourselves. We may hope that someone will come forth to rule, whose origin is of old, from ancient days. Our help is in the name of the Lord. The Lord alone will make us secure when the Lord is king to the ends of the earth (Mic. 5:2-4).
But thanks be to God, for the Lord has come, whose being in the flesh is a single sacrifice for sin (Heb. 10:12). The offering of the body of Jesus Christ occurred once for all, not the shadowy blood-sacrifices of old, but the true and effectual form. He was and is “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world” (BCP, p. 334). Do we understand what this means? Not entirely. A theologian is born the moment he or she senses the truth, knows it as a mystical prayer, and yet cannot dispense it with a deluge of words. The theologian is in the Bible and in the tradition as very few professors of religion are. Thinking and praying take time. What happened when Jesus came to be among us? “He took up what we are and offered it in sacrifice, destroying it (the old Adam) completely, and then he vested us with his own nature” (St. Athanasius, Epist. ad Epictetum, 5-9). The moment he was born, the old humanity began to die. “His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day” (John Donne, Christmas Day, 1626). It isn’t enough to say that Jesus died. We died with him.
The birth and sacrifice of Jesus Christ sets us free. John jumped at the presence of the news, as St. Luke tells us. Even in the womb, John sensed the grace, John exulted on account of the mystery, John sensed the arrival, as St. Ambrose tells us. This is a reason to shout in exultation. In Jesus Christ humanity is renewed, made alive with the life of Christ. The birth of the head is the birth of the body (Leo the Great, Sermo 6, in Nativitate Domini, 2-3,5). You don’t need permission to live. You are alive in Christ.
Look It Up
Read the Magnificat.
Think About It
His birth is your birth.