Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for Christmas Day: "On Christmas, a mystery of love beyond measure is fulfilled."

Christmas Day Mass

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, December 25th, 2018

Et Verbum caro factum est.
And the Word was made flesh.
(Jn 1:14)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

The birth of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, its near and far context, have been abundantly retailed by the two evangelists St. Matthew and St. Luke. St. Mark, on the other hand, doesn’t evoke this period in the life of Jesus, and begins his Gospel with the preaching of John the Baptist. As to St. John, if he doesn’t actually mention the events related to the Savior’s birth, he prefaces his Gospel with the Prologue we have just heard.

In the Gospel of St. Luke, the birth of Jesus isn’t the first one to be told. Six months before, John the Baptist, the Precursor, was born from Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth. Near the child’s cradle, a question was asked:“What then is this child going to be?” Not so at the Crib. The shepherds were informed by the angel’s words:

For, this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. (Lk 2:11)

What do the evangelists tell us concerning the origin of Jesus? During this night, at the end of Matins, we have heard the long genealogy taken from the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Beginning with Abraham, the Father of all believers, it ends with Jacob, who “begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ." (Mt 1:16) So as to dispel any misunderstanding concerning the mode of this generation, the evangelist specifies:

Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. (Mt 1:18)

As to St. Luke, he doesn’t preface the narrative of Jesus’ birth with a genealogy, but with the narrative of the Annunciation, in which he recalls the visit made by the angel Gabriel to Mary, “a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” (Lk 1:27) During this little dialogue with Mary, the angel unveils the calling she has received from the Lord, her vocation:

Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of His kingdom there shall be no end. (Lk 1:31-33)

Such an assertion could not but astonish Mary. She says, “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” (v. 34) In his answer, the angel emphasizes the unique mode of this conception:

The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (v. 35)
St. Matthew and St. Luke, while they record the Davidic descent of Jesus, affirm His miraculous conception from the Holy Spirit. In their footsteps, we confess it every Sunday in the Creed, also called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol: “By the Holy Spirit, He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man”; or similarly in the Apostles’ Creed, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”

St. John, instead of starting from the earthly generation of the Child Jesus, invites us to contemplate the Trinity:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He  was with God in the beginning. (Jn 1:1-2)

To account for this truth, the Creed proclaims the Son “consubstantial with the Father.” Such a word is daunting. Yet, it is the only one apt to convey the integrity of the mystery. Should we only affirm that the Father and the Son are of the same nature, we would forsake part of the truth, forsake also to express an immeasurable act of love.

All human beings are of the same nature. Yet, they are not consubstantial. What then shall we say? If God is truly God, then He cannot be but one. From all eternity, the Father Who is God begets the Son Who is God. The Father gives everything, and the Son receives everything. They both are, together with the Holy Spirit, one God.

To distinguish the Father, there only remains the fact of begetting, and for the Son, the fact of being begotten. In the bosom of the Trinity, from all eternity, is carried out an act of love of an unthinkable intensity. But St. John calls his readers to contemplate another mystery, too, the object of the feast of Christmas. Indeed, God didn’t remain faraway from men, but: 

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14)

The Word of God, second Person of the Trinity, has received in His incarnation a new nature, the human nature, which is united without any mixture or confusion with the divine nature that He holds from the Father from all eternity. There again is fulfilled a mystery of love beyond measure, this time towards men, which is unveiled by the first lines of the Epistle to Hebrews:

God, Who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by His Son, Whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by Whom also He made the world. Who being the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance, and upholding all things by the word of His power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hb 1:1-3)

Why should we have to dwell, on this Christmas morning, on considerations we might well be tempted to leave to theologians, if not to endeavor to make palpable with human words the immeasurable love of God manifested to us in the Crib? Under the guise of a child, God gives Himself, not according to the measure of men, but according to the divine measure. The most radical and ultimate expression of this gift will be the Paschal mystery, death and resurrection: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13)

On this Christmas morning, let us join the shepherds, the little and the humble ones, Mary and Joseph, and in silence, let us passionately contemplate an inexhaustible mystery, so deep a love, an unbounded peace, God with us, Emmanuel.