Rorate Caeli

CHRISTMAS: Fontgombault Sermon for Christmas Day Mass: "The Child of the crib is truly God."

 Christmas Day Mass

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau 
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault 
Fontgombault, December 25th, 2022

Et Verbum caro factum est.

And the Word was made flesh. (Jn 1:14)

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

My dearly beloved Sons,

Since last night the liturgy has been taking us with a dis-concerting easiness from a poor stable to the most unfathomable mysteries of the Trinity. The birth according to the flesh of a child in a stable rubs shoulders with the eternal generation of the second person of the Trinity in the bosom of the Father. The angels make themselves close to the shepherds. Very soon, we shall learn that a star has convoked three kings in the presence of the Divine Child. As the Word of God takes flesh in our earth, the laws of nature seem to be topsy-turvy.

What is then the divine plan carried out under our eyes? It is a plan of salvation, granted to men by God “not by the works of justice which we have done, but according to His mercy.” During Advent, the Church kept asking for this mercy, in the school of the people of the Old Testament: “Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam. — Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy.”

God has heard. His mercy is the quintessential divine gift, totally free, through which God manifests His power. The Cross will be the inestimable price of our salvation: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” 

The way of the cross started for Joseph and Mary in the search for a place where their child might be born. The land of David doesn’t show much welcome to the King promised by the prophets. There is no room in the inn. Only a stable opens its doors, and it is a manger that receives the Divine Child wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Should we be indignant, or surprised? God goes where He will be received. The first ones over whom His mercy will spread its mantle are the shepherds. The Gospel specifies that they were staying out in the fields, to keep watch over their flock during the night. These privileged ones are not unlike the Divine Child they go and contemplate, He who will someday call Himself the Good Shepherd, He who knows His sheep, and whom His sheep know.

And behold, the shepherds are surrounded by the glory of God, and an angel is standing before them.

The presence of the angels introduces us one step further into mystery. The presence of these purely spiritual beings around a cradle should not surprise us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. 

Near the cradle, these beings of light pursue the work of praise they interrupt neither by day nor by night: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” c They will pursue it by the side of the incarnate Word, as commanded by the Father: “When He bringeth in the first Begotten into the world, He saith: ‘And let all the angels of God adore Him.’” The angels will be by Jesus’ side after He has overcome the temptations of the devil. They will be with Him during His agony, b and until His Ascension.

Around the crib, the angels don’t confine themselves to proclaiming the glory of God. They announce to the shepherds the good news:

For, this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. 


Let us keep in mind that the angels are for us, too, a gift of God, a mercy. Around us, they pursue their everlasting praise for so many divine gifts poured out in abundance upon our lives, the purveyors of which they often are. Let us willingly have recourse to their help.

There is a last step left for us to cross. Last night, the introit of the Mass has led us into the eternal today of God: “The Lord hath said to Me: ‘Thou art my Son, today have I begotten Thee.’” 

Once again this morning, the reading of the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John invites us to contemplate the eternal generation of the Word in the bosom of the Father.

Whereas on Christmas day the Word is revealed to men under the figure of a child, the Church, although she allows us to be emotionally moved by the crib, wants to remind us that the Child of the crib is truly God:

In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God: and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. 

Shouldn’t such a generation forbid all encounter with the Word of God? On the part of man, assuredly... but God Himself has broken the enforced silence:

At sundry times and in divers manners, God spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days, He hath spoken to us by his Son, Whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by Whom also He made the world. 

God is no niggard with His gifts, and the Word is the fairest of all His gifts. Through Him, everything came to existence, to life. “The Word was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.” The supreme gift the Word gives us is “to be made the sons of God.” To that purpose,

“the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” 

Let us live these days in the school of Mary, who “kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” May the peace of the holy stable, the peace of Christmas, the peace of Heaven coming down on earth, spread over our families, our communities, our country, and over the world. Today, God invites us to step into His peace. Let us share it among us.

Holy and happy Christmas to all!