The Twelve Days of Christmas 2019—Day 7 (2)

Our faith is not founded upon empty words; nor are we carried away by mere caprice or beguiled by specious arguments. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the Word himself at God’s command. God wished to win us back from disobedience, not by using force to reduce us to slavery but by addressing to our free will a call to liberty.

Without protest he endured his passion, he submitted to death and revealed his resurrection. In all these ways he offered his own humanity as the firstfruits of our race to keep us from losing heart when suffering comes our way, and to make us look forward to receiving the same reward as he did, since we know that we possess the same humanity…We shall enter the kingdom of heaven, because while we lived on earth we acknowledged heaven’s King.

—Hippolytus, On the Refutation of All Heresies 10, 33-34

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2019—Day 7

How could he have given himself if he had not worn flesh? He offered his flesh and gave himself for us, in order that undergoing death in it, “He might bring to nothing the one who held the power of death, that is, the devil.” For this reason we continually give thanks in the name of Jesus Christ. We do not bring to nothing the grace which came to us through him. For the coming of the Savior in the flesh has been the ransom and salvation of all creation.

—Athanasius, Letter to Adelphus

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2019—Day 6 (2)

It is as if God the Father sent upon the earth a purse full of his mercy. This purse was burst open during the Lord’s passion to pour forth its hidden contents—the price of our redemption. It was only a small purse, but it was very full. As the Scriptures tell us: “A little child has been given to us, but in him who dwells with the fullness of the divine nature.” The fullness of time brought with it the fullness of divinity. God’s Son came in the flesh so that mortals could see and recognize God’s kindness. When God reveals his humanity, his goodness cannot possibly remain hidden…How could he have shown his mercy more clearly than by taking on himself our condition? We should stop thinking of our own sufferings and remember what he has suffered. The lesser he became through his human nature, the greater was his goodness; the more he lowered himself for me, the dearer he is to me…He has given us a most wonderful proof of his goodness by adding humanity to his own divine nature.

—Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 1 for Epiphany

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2019—Day 6

When Isaac himself carried the wood for the sacrifice of himself, in this, too, he prefigured Christ our Lord, who carried his own cross to the place of his passion. On this mystery much had already been foretold by the prophets: “And his government shall be upon his shoulders.” Christ, then, had the government upon his shoulders when he carried his cross with wonderful humility. Not unfittingly does Christ’s cross signify government: by it the devil is conquered and the whole world recalled to the knowledge and grace of Christ.

—Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 84.3

Meditations on the Incarnation by Select Church Fathers and Doctors

Meditations read by Father Kevin Maney on Christmas 1A, Sunday, December 29, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

The following sermon preached by St. John Chrysostom is the first extant Christmas sermon we have. It was preached in Antioch in 386, the same year Augustine became a Christian. Source:

Behold a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He who is, is Born; and He who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation [being born of a virgin] I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.  

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works. 

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend. 

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, who is before all ages, who cannot be touched or be perceived, who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that [humans] cannot see. For since [humans] believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature. 

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker. 

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He who cannot be touched, who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of [humans]. He who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness. 

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me. 

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with [humans] without fear, and [humans] now hold speech with angels. 

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infants food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

—St. John Chrysostom (d. 407), priest at Antioch and later Archbishop of Constantinople

Now hear this word from St. Athanasius.

The Word of God did not abandon the human race, his creatures, who are hurtling to their own ruin. By the offering of his body, the Word of God destroyed death which had united itself to them; by his teaching, he corrected their negligences; and by his power, he restored the human race.

Why was it necessary for the Word of God to become incarnate and not some other? Scripture indicates the reason by these words: “It was fitting that when bringing many heirs to glory, God, for whom and through whom all things exist, should make their leader in the work of salvation perfect through suffering.” This signifies that the work of raising human beings from the ruin into which they had fallen pertained to none other than the Word of God, who had made them in the beginning.

By the sacrifice of his body, he put an end to the law which weighed upon them, and he renewed in us the principle of life by giving us the hope of the resurrection. For if it is through ourselves that death attained dominance over us, conversely, it is through the incarnation of the Word of God that death has been destroyed and that life has been resurrected, as indicated by the Apostle filled with Christ: “Death came through one person; hence the resurrection of the dead comes through another person also. Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will come to life again.”

It is no longer as condemned that we die. Rather, we die with the hope of rising again from the dead, awaiting the universal resurrection which God will manifest to us in his own time, since he is both the author of it and gives us the grace for it.

St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (d. 373), On the Incarnation 10.14

And finally, a word from our own St. Augustine of Hippo. 

Awake! For your sake God has become human. “Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” I tell you again: for your sake, God became human.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

…Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but by sheer grace.

—St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (d. 430), Sermon 185

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2019—Day 4

He chose to lack for himself, that he may abound for all. The sobs of that appalling infancy cleanse me, those tears wash away my sins. Therefore, Lord Jesus, I owe more to your sufferings because I was redeemed than I do to works for which I was created. You see that he is in swaddling clothes. You do not see that he is in heaven. You hear the cries of an infant, you do not hear the lowing of an ox recognizing its Master, for the ox knows his Owner and the donkey his Master’s crib.

—Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke: 2:41-42

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2019—Day 3

He was a baby and a child, so that you may be a perfect human. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you may be freed from the snares of death. He was in a manger, that you may be at the altar. He was on earth that you may be in the stars. He had no other place in the inn, so that you may have many mansions in the heavens. He, being rich, became poor for your sakes, that through his poverty you may be rich. Therefore his poverty is our inheritance, and the Lord’s weakness is our virtue.

—Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 2:41-42

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2019—Day 1

Once again this year, as my Christmas gift to you, I am going to post excerpts from the wisdom of the ancient commentators on the Incarnation of God. I will be posting each day until January 5. May you find them as edifying as I have. Merry Christmas!

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no one free from sin, came to free us all.

—Prayer from Leo the Great

Christmas Eve Sermon— Christmas: God’s Light for the Darkness

Sermon delivered on Christmas Eve 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of tonight’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.7-10; The Song of God’s Chosen One (Isaiah 11); Hebrews 1.1-12; John 1.1-14.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Merry Christmas, St. Augustine’s! During this past Advent season we have encouraged you to look into the darkness of this world and our lives with faith in the goodness of God’s justice and power to act on our behalf. Continuing this theme in our gospel lesson tonight, St. John writes that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. But what does that mean for us as Christians living today? This is what I want us to look at this evening.

Have you ever waited to hear good news about something or someone? If you have, you get a sense of what’s going on in our OT lesson. There’s a sense of real hope that the news will be good, but we can imagine God’s people also waiting and wondering if their hopes will be dashed and the news will be bad. We don’t have to live in 7th century BC Israel to understand this dynamic. We all have our secret and not so secret hopes and fears, our anxieties and sorrows. We look at our own failures and all that swirls around us in our lives; and as we have seen during Advent, we ask the Advent questions: How long, O Lord, before you act on our behalf? Have you forgotten us, Lord, forever? Why are you not acting to bring justice to your world and people? This is the darkness about which St. John speaks in our gospel lesson. It is a darkness caused by the powers of Evil and their human agents. It is the darkness of a sin-stained life. It is the darkness of grieving the death of loved ones or of serious physical or emotional ailments. It is the darkness of alienation, both from God and each other. It is the darkness of fear, to name just a few. Where is God in all of it? Does God not care? Why does God allow the darkness to seemingly prevail? As God’s people in Christ, we eagerly await some message of Good News, hoping that God’s light and goodness prevail. Many of us hope for the best but expect the worst.

But then we, like God’s people Israel, hear the Good News and our spirits soar. God’s heralds announce our salvation (think angels over Bethlehem in St. Luke’s gospel). Our God reigns! The enemy has been defeated! The forces of darkness are destroyed! Notice carefully, my beloved, that in our OT lesson, as well as our own lives, the promised deliverance is not yet fulfilled; it is only announced to us. The people of Israel had not yet witnessed the destruction of their Babylonian conquerors and experienced the joy of returning to their beloved Promised Land. Likewise for us. Come Christmas morning tomorrow, we will awake believing that Christ has come but with the realization that the world still seems committed to its old sinful and hurtful ways. The powers of darkness do not take a break on Christmas Day. If anything they ramp up their game with all kinds of mayhem and violence in an effort to make us believe God’s announcement that our salvation has been achieved in Christ and that God our Father reigns is nothing but a lie. Let none of us dare fall for their lies because Satan, the head of the dark powers, is the father of lies and he does not want us to know and experience the joy of God’s Truth.

No, the promise of the birth of Christ at Christmas is that the good news announced to God’s people through the prophet Isaiah has come true, i.e., Christmas is the beginning of God’s answer to our Advent questions. Both St. John and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews make the bold and audacious statement that God himself has become human to deliver us from our sins and the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death so that our present and future are secure. But as all our lessons make clear, in coming to us as a human, or in the language of the NT, in sending his Son to us, God the Father has much bigger fish to fry than just saving us from our sins, massively important as that is. 

When St. John tells us the Word became flesh and lived among us as Jesus Christ, he takes us back to the very beginning of creation. In sending Christ to rescue us from the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death, God the Father intends to rescue not only us, but all of creation. We see this vision put forth in our canticle lesson. The original harmony and goodness of nature are restored and we as God’s image-bearers, you and me, are healed and equipped to once again rule God’s good world on God’s behalf. Think about this carefully, my beloved. When the Word became flesh, when the Light shined in the darkness, God revealed to us that creation matters, that we matter, our entire being: body, mind, and spirit, not just our spirits. God intends to heal the entire creation, freeing his image-bearers from the darkness that has enslaved us, and restoring us to his full image-bearers the way we were before the Fall. Think it through. How wonderful it will be to one day be able to walk unfettered and unashamed with God in God’s new world the way our first human ancestors enjoyed perfect communion with God in the garden (cf. Genesis 3.8-9), free from the anxieties that plague us because of our sin-sickness and the alienation that afflicts us. How wonderful and awesome will that be! The goodness of God will permeate through every atom of our cosmos and us, freeing us from our sins and our slavery to the dark powers that hate us and want to destroy us. Death will be no more because it too will have been destroyed when Christ returns to raise his people from the dead and transform those who are living at that time as he ushers in God’s new world, perfect and devoid of every kind of evil and sin and darkness. This is what the writer of Hebrews is getting at when he tells us that God’s Messiah, Jesus our Lord, the Light that shines in the darkness, will change the old creation into the new, just like we change from old clothes into new ones. Christ can do that because he is our Creator and Sustainer, i.e., he is Lord of the universe and has been given the authority from God the Father to rule, both in this dark age and in the age to come. 

And how do we know this is true? Because the word of God proclaims and announces it to be true, and as our OT reminds us (along with the NT), the word of God in Scripture has the power to transform us so that we can believe its proclamation is true. But there’s more, of course. As St. John reminds us, we are to look at the wondrous fact that God became human in the course of human history to verify the NT’s claim that God did indeed become human and dwell among us. It is critical for us to know why God became human and what he did so that the darkness cannot overcome his Light and we may have hope, i.e., we look to the past so that we can trust God’s present announcement of God’s return to us. To be sure, Christ will come as a warrior to judge all those who refuse to submit to his Lordship and way of life. Sadly there are many who will fall into this category. Let us make every effort in the power of the Spirit not to be counted among those poor souls. God’s judgment on all that is dark and evil is surely coming as the NT promises when Christ returns to finish his saving work. Evildoers will be dealt with accordingly and the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death will be banished forever. When the dead are raised perfect justice will be ushered in and our memories will surely be healed of all the hateful and hurtful and dark things we have had to bear, thanks be to God! A loving and good God cannot and will not tolerate evil forever and we get a foretaste of that in Christ’s first coming when we see our Lord heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, and cast out demons. 

But what about us? We are all sinners. Won’t we too fall under God’s terrible judgment on all that is evil and wrong? Not so fast my anxious ones. Enter the story of Christmas where God takes on our flesh to deal with our sins. In Christ, God has refused to wage war on the enemy’s terms. God did not come with shock and awe, much as God’s people Israel (and many of us) wanted him to. Instead he came as a baby boy, fully human yet fully God, an impenetrable mystery. That is why so many of God’s people (and others since) missed God’s promised return to his people. And why did God choose to do this? First because he gave humans the exalted status and privilege of being his image-bearing creatures who would rule God’s world on God’s behalf, reflecting God’s goodness and justice and love out into God’s world for the world to enjoy and celebrate. If God created us for such a job, it makes sense that God would choose to rescue us from our slavery to Evil, Sin, and Death through the human agency of Jesus Christ. 

But secondly, God became human so that he could pronounce judgment on our sins without condemning us. As St. Paul reminds us succinctly in his letter to the Romans, God became human for us because 

The law of Moses was unable to save us [from our sins] because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 

Romans 8.3 (NLT)

In other words, God condemned our sins in the flesh so he would not have to condemn us. That is why there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ (Rm 8.1). We can enjoy God’s tender mercy, love, and goodness right now because our God reigns as the prophet proclaimed in our OT lesson and God the Father has declared us not guilty ahead of time! This great love and mercy and justice of God is even more remarkable when we consider that God did all this for us while we were still his enemies (Romans 5.8). And because we are united to Christ through faith and our baptism, while we will share in a mortal death like his, more importantly we will also in a resurrection like his, a future benefit we can enjoy right now. This is the light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome! Christmas announces the penultimate Good News of God’s rescue plan for his sinful world and its people. Without Good Friday and Easter, Christmas would be meaningless because it would mean God did not become human to live and die and be raised again to rescue us from our slavery to Evil, Sin, and Death.

And now we return to our OT lesson. This is the Good News Isaiah announced to his people centuries before Christ was born. Isaiah probably did not realize that his prophecy was far greater and more encompassing than even he could imagine, and we as God’s people in Christ must take hope in that announcement, even if we do not see our promised deliverance realized in full yet. Do not let your broken heart or cynicism or whatever ails you prevent you from letting your future hope in Christ start to heal you today so that you can live with hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come—and joy, even as the darkness of your life swirls around you. Without hope, people die. Literally. As bad as things are today, think about how much worse they would be if you did not have this present and future hope in Christ. Think about never seeing loved ones again, or having your old age and infirmity be the final arbiter of the value of your life, or dying in utter loneliness and despair. How could St. John and the other NT writers possibly claim that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it? It would be a lie and you would be a fool to believe it. But the gospel proclamation that God reigns and you are forgiven is true because Jesus Christ was born into this world and Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, and you would be a bigger fool not to believe it, effectively not allowing your future expectation to give you joy and power for the living of your mortal days.

And here is where I want to speak to those of you who are living in the darkness right now. I know there is at least one person here who has lost a loved one recently and Christmas will never be the same for you again so that you are grieving. If you are one who experiences the darkness of loss or fear or anxiety or desperation, I want to say to you first of all how sorry I am that you are experiencing the darkness of this world at Christmastime. My heart goes out to you and I grieve with and for you. But I also want to tell you to take hope! Take heart because Jesus Christ is born and raised from the dead! God is good to his word and has become human to rescue you and those you have loved and lost for awhile. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot and will not be able to overcome it unless you submit to its lies. Please don’t do that. For the love Christ has for you and yours, please don’t do that. You have the Spirit of Christ living in you to testify that you are not alone, that you have hope because God himself has acted to rescue you and those in Christ whom you have lost. You have people here in your parish family who will walk with you in your grief if you let them. You have God’s word and sacrament to heal and refresh you. Trust and believe in God’s power to do so! To be sure, you will grieve your losses as we all do and have your struggles. No one ever said the darkness is easy to overcome. But grieve as one who has real hope, a hope based on Christ born this night. It is especially during the darkest times that the light of Christ comes to shine the brightest in your life and there is no darkness that can overcome this great light, dear people of God. You have the Father’s very word on it. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Merry Christmas, my beloved. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Saint Luke Recounts the Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

—Luke 2.1-20 (ESV)