From “A Sermon on Christmas Day,” (1625)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem observed that none of the saints of God did ever celebrate with any festival solemnity their own birthday. Pharaoh celebrated his birthday, but who would make Pharaoh an example. And besides Pharaoh polluted that festival with the blood of one of his servants. Herod celebrated his nativity but who would think it an honor to be like Herod. And besides, Herod polluted that festival with the blood of John the Baptist…
The early Christian martyrs, our examples, are celebrated in the Christian Church [with festival days] yet not on their births in this world, but on their birth in the next… Christ’s birth, likewise, is celebrated because the work of our redemption was an entire work and all that Christ said or did or suffered concurred to our salvation. His mother’s swathing him in little clothes points to Joseph of Arimathea shrouding him in a funeral sheet. His cold lying in the manger points to his cold dying upon the cross. The declaration, puer natus, a son is born, points to his words, consummatum est, it is finished.
Some heretics deny that Christ was made of a woman. They say that Christ passed through her as water through a pipe but took nothing of her substance. But if he took not the nature of humanity he has not redeemed humanity…
Christ is now content to be born again [spiritually] of sinful “mothers.” The soul that accuses itself most of sin… in the soul that has been, as it were, possessed with the seven devils which possessed Mary Magdalene… with that man whose name was Legion with all devils… in that sinful soul would Christ Jesus be born this day and make that soul his mother that he might be a regeneration to that soul.
We cannot give Christ such a birth within us as he had from virgin, because every one of us has married himself to some particular sin, some beloved sin from which he can hardly divorce himself. But even then, no one keeps faith to that one sin that he has married. We mingle ourselves with other sins. Although one may love covetousness as a wife, he may commit adultery with another sin, ambition for example. And even then, he will commit adultery again, with yet another sin, with licentiousness now. Then, as soon as these becomes new wives, he takes lust as a concubine.
And yet for all this, Christ may be born within us, spiritually. Christ Jesus is willing to take on us, we mothers of fornication. As long as we are united and incorporated in his beloved spouse, the Church, and conform ourselves to her, grow up in her, hearken to Christ’s word in her, feed upon his sacraments in her, acknowledge a seal of reconciliation by the absolution of the minister in her.. then Christ may be conceived within us.
John Donne (1572-1631) was an English cleric, poet, and scholar, acclaimed as one of the finest preachers of his day. He is widely considered the preeminent metaphysical poet, prized for his inventiveness in the use of metaphor and his dramatic, vigorous style. He was ordained after a political and military career, serving as chaplain at Lincoln’s Inn, and for the last ten years of his life, as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Donne is commemorated on the liturgical calendar of several Anglican churches on March 31.