(The Nativity of our Lord)
A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
The mystery of our Lord’s Incarnation, which we also call the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, is the proclamation of all our hope, and all our desire, all our human longing and uncertainty, satisfied. Without the events which we have come to know and celebrate as Christmas, the story of human history is indeed a dark, and ultimately, a deadly one, as the prophet Isaiah makes so profoundly clear in his preaching: “they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness.” It is the place where the serpent’s tempting offer of god-likeness comes to show its true and lifeless colours, in the many shades of grey that surround our disobedient godlessness: we find that any effort to establish a goodness for ourselves only comes to nothing and empty ruin. In the end, we are not God, and to pretend to be His equal is only to turn from the light and life which He intends us to receive, and instead to waste away in the darkness of our own lonely impotence and vanity.
In this predicament our heartache and longing may become clear, but we are never any nearer to relief, since we continue to rely only on our own power to satisfy us, and we can only truly rejoice in the presence and life of God. For He has made us as the very image of His goodness, so that we are meant to know and enjoy the greatest of all blessings, to share and reflect the love by which all things were made, and in which all life has its meaning and good purpose. We are not merely animals, but children, and if children, then it is only in the loving embrace of the Father that we are at peace. And so, the trouble of this fallen world is summed up in this phrase: though we may long for God, how shall we find Him, once we have lost both Him, and ourselves? And the answer is that we shall not; but we are not then without hope. Indeed, it is at the very depths of this certain condemnation and depravity that our hope must spring. Think, for instance, of brother Job, in the very depths of misery and loneliness:
The light of the wicked indeed goes out,
And the flame of his fire does not shine.
The light is dark in his tent,
And his lamp beside him is put out.
The steps of his strength are shortened,
And his own counsel casts him down.
For he is cast into a net by his own feet,
And he walks into a snare.
And yet, he finds in the very heart of his heartache a reason to hope, and to make his hope a proclamation for our encouragement:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God
It is hope beyond hope, that is, hope beyond our rebellious imagination of power to help ourselves, and the beginning of a new and spiritual hope: that where we are unable, God is able, and where we are lost, God may yet come, and find, and save us; because in darkness the light is not only brightness, but salvation. The story of Christmas, therefore, is that this light, which finds and saves us, is Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, in Bethlehem. St. John tells it this way: That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his Name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth. In the grace and truth of that glory, the glory of our Lord’s Incarnation, we find all our hope, all our heartache, and human longing, satisfied. O come, let us worship!