CHRISTMAS VIGIL- HOMILY- Isaiah 9: 1-6; Titus 2: 11- 14

A CHILD IS BORN FOR US, A SON IS GIVEN TO US (Isaiah 9:6). THE GRACE OF GOD THE SAVIOR HAS APPEARED TO ALL MEN (Titus 2: 11). Placing side by side these two sentences from the first two readings of this vigil mass of Christmas is not an arbitrary proceeding. It is precisely the intent of the liturgy that this prophecy of Isaiah be read in light of the theological commentary by St. Paul as given in his letter to one of his closest collaborators, St. Titus. St. Paul himself was well acquainted with the text of Isaiah so that his words are an expression of their deeper sense, which became clear only in the light of the Incarnation and the mysteries of Christ's birth, life and death.

The early Cistercian Fathers commented repeatedly on these words of Isaiah seeing in them a profound significance that bore on a proper understanding of the birth of the Word of God in the flesh. Not only is this child born for us, as Blessed Guerric insistently observes, he is also given to us. One can easily point out that Isaiah, the greatest of the Hebrew poets, here is using the two phrases as parallelism of form, both meaning essentially the same. On the other hand, his text was written not only for the Hebrews of his day who would have readily grasped his intent, but also for persons of many races and cultures who were to read his words in their own fashion. Certainly, it is the same Holy Spirit who inspired the man who wrote the text who also guides and illuminates those who read it with faith and seeking understanding with his grace.

Bl. Guerric understands the birth as a gift so that the essential meaning of the prophet is made more distinct: this child is born for our benefit; his birth is a gift that will prove to be our happi ness to a degree that surpasses our expectation. The distinction is a very considerable one. An individual may well be reconciled with some one with whom he had been in serious disagree ment and yet not give myself to him in a relation of intimate confidence and trust. This infant is a sign of God's favor, then, which intends our eternal good; he is an expression of a love that gives itself for our happiness. His appearance itself is a sign that we are loved by God. Jesus' birth in the flesh is a manifestation of the mercy and grace of God precisely as Savior. He is not only born in order to reconcile us to the Father; rather, he goes further and gives himself to us, to dwell within us and so to renew us in view of uniting us with the Father. The Abbot of Igny stresses that the purpose of Jesus' birth is to make us new creatures, capable of sharing his own eternal life with the Father.

A child is born for us. A child who is the ancient of days. A child in his bodily form and age, but the ancient of days in the incomprehensible eternity of the Word. And although in his antiquity of days even if he is not a child, yet he is always new. Rather I should say that he is not so much new as newness itself, always remaining in himself and renewing all things. In fact, in so far as things distance themselves from him they grow old, and when they draw near again they are renewed in their youth (Sermon I.1 In Nativitate Domini, PL 185: 29).

The birth of the Word as an infant is intended not only to stimulate hope of new life but also to give us confidence in God's love for us. The very littleness of the infant, his inability to speak (infans in Latin meaning "not speaking"), his helplessness are so many appeals to our affection. God the all powerful speaks to us in this non-speaking infant in order to convince us that He truly seeks us because he wishes to share his love. The Word becoming an infant aims to evoke our affection and so our loving acceptance of the grace he offers us, that is, his free gift of salvation.

The sign of the infant birth as the manifestation of God's grace prolongs itself in the living sign of this Eucharist. As we commemorate the birth of Christ this night, we offer the sacrifice that makes present his death and resurrection so that we might even now have a share in the newness of life He brings us. This sacrament is a pledge to us who offer it and receive the body and blood of the risen Savior that this child is truly born for us, and is given to us that we might give our self to him. May we make this gift of self our resolve tonight, and carry it through in a daily fidelity to his teaching and his person, until we meet him face to face in the kingdom of the God the Father who bestows on us all things in giving his beloved Son to us.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

[abbey crest]

Abbey of the Genesee

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