Sermon 22 on the Nativity of Christ

by St. Leo the Great

Ghirlandaio_The_Nativity588Our father among the saints, Leo the Great was the bishop of Rome during difficult times. He was an eminent scholar of Scripture and rhetoric. During an invasion by Attila the Hun, St. Leo met him outside the gates of Rome. After some short words, to everyone’s surprise, Attila turned and left. Three years later, during an invasion by Genseric the Vandal, St. Leo’s intercession again saved the Eternal City from destruction.

The mystery of the Incarnation demands our joy.

Let us be glad in the Lord, dearly-beloved, and rejoice with spiritual joy that there has dawned for us the day of every-new redemption, of ancient preparation, of eternal bliss. For as the year rolls round, there recurs for us the commemoration of our salvation, which promised from the beginning, accomplished in the fullness of time will endure for ever; on which we are bound with hearts up-lifted to adore the divine mystery: so that what is the effect of God’s great gift may be celebrated by the Church’s great rejoicing.

For God the almighty and merciful, Whose nature is goodness, Whose will is power, Whose work is mercy: as soon as the devil’s malignity killed us by the poison of his hatred, foretold at the very beginning of the world the remedy His piety had prepared for the restoration of us mortals: proclaiming to the serpent that the Seed of the woman should come to crush the lifting of his baneful head by its power, signifying no doubt that Christ would come in the flesh, God and man, Who born of a Virgin should by His incorrupt birth condemn the despoiler of the human stock. Thus in the whole and perfect nature of true man was true God born, complete in what was His own, complete in what was ours.

And “ours” we call what the Creator formed in us from the beginning and what He undertook to repair. For what the deceiver brought in and the deceived admitted has no trace in the Savior. Nor because He partook of man’s weaknesses, did He therefore share our faults. He took the form of a slave without stain of sin, increasing the human and not diminishing the Divine: because the “emptying of Himself” whereby the Invisible made Himself visible and Creator and Lord of all things as He was, wished to be mortal.

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Therefore, when the time came, dearly beloved, which had been fore-ordained for men’s redemption, the Son of God enters these lower parts of the world, descending from His heavenly throne and yet not quitting His Father’s glory, begotten in a new order, by a new nativity. In a new order, because being invisible in His own nature He became visible in ours, and He whom nothing could contain, was content to be contained: abiding before all time He began to be in time: the Lord of all things, He obscured His immeasurable majesty and took on Him the form of a servant: being God, that cannot suffer, He did not disdain to be man that can, and immortal as He is, to subject Himself to the laws of death. And by a new nativity He was begotten, conceived by a Virgin, born of a Virgin, without paternal desire, without injury to the mother’s chastity: because such a birth as knew no taint of human flesh, became One who was to be the Savior of men, while it possessed in itself the nature of human substance. For when God was born in the flesh, God Himself was the Father, as the archangel witnessed to the Blessed Virgin Mary:

“because the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee: and therefore, that which shall be born of thee shall be called holy, the Son of God.”

The origin is different but the nature like: not with man but by the power of God was it brought about: for a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bare, and a Virgin she remained.

Consider here not the condition of her that bare but the will of Him that was born; for He was born Man as He willed and was able. If you inquire into the truth of His nature, you must acknowledge the matter to be human; if you search for the mode of His birth, you must confess the power to be of God. For the Lord Jesus Christ came to do away with not to endure our pollutions: not to succumb to our faults but to heal them. He came that He might cure every weakness of our corruptness and all the sores of our defiled souls: for which reason it behaved Him to be born by a new order, who brought to men’s bodies the new gift of unsullied purity.

For the incorrupt nature of Him that was born had to guard the primal virginity of the Mother, and the infused power of the Divine Spirit had to preserve in spotlessness and holiness that sanctuary which He had chosen for Himself: that Spirit (I say) who had determined to raise the fallen, to restore the broken, and by overcoming the allurements of the flesh to bestow on us in abundant measure the power of chastity; in order that the virginity which in others cannot be retained in child-bearing, might be attained by them at their second birth.

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Justice required that Satan be vanquished by God made man. And, dearly beloved, this very fact that Christ chose to be born of a Virgin does it not appear to be part of the deepest design? For though the true mercy of God had infinitely many schemes to hand for the restoration of mankind, it chose that particular design which put in force for the destroying of the devil’s work, not the efficacy of might but the dictates of justice. For the pride of the ancient foe not undeservedly made good its despotic rights over all men, and tyrannized over those who had been of their own accord lured away from God’s commands to be the slaves of his will. And to this end, without male seed Christ was conceived of a Virgin, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And whereas in all mothers conception does not take place without stain of sin, this one received purification from the Source of her conception. Her unsullied virginity knew no lust when it ministered the substance. The Lord took from His mother our nature, not our fault.

Then, therefore, the merciful and almighty Savior so arranged the commencement of His human course as to hide the power of His Godhead, the crafty foe was taken off his guard and he thought that the nativity of the Child, Who was born for the salvation of mankind, was as much subject to himself as all others are to their birth. For he saw Him crying and weeping, he saw Him wrapped in swaddling clothes, subjected to circumcision, offering the sacrifice which the law required. Meanwhile, he inflicted insults, poured upon Him all the force of his fury. The unscrupulous thief persisted in assaulting Him, and went beyond the bond, and required the punishment of iniquity from Him in Whom he found no fault. The strong one is bound by his own chains, and every device of the evil one recoils in his own head. When the prince of the world is bound, all that he held in captivity is released. Our nature cleansed from its old contagion regains its honorable estate, death is destroyed by death, nativity is restored by nativity: since at the one and the same time redemption does away with slavery, regeneration changes our origin, and faith justifies the sinner.

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Having therefore so confident a hope, dearly beloved, abide firm in the Faith in which you are built: lest that same temper whose tyranny over you Christ has already destroyed, win you back again with any of his wiles, and mar even the joys of the present festival by his deceitful art. Such men’s hearts are wrapped in total darkness, and have no growing perception of the true Light; for they are still drawn away by the foolish errors, because they cannot lift the eyes of their mind above that which their carnal sight beholds. Let not Christian souls entertain any such wicked superstition and portentous lie.

That power then, that wisdom, that majesty is to be adored which created the universe out of nothing, and framed by His almighty methods the substance of the earth and sky into what forms and dimensions He willed. Sun, moon, and stars may be most useful to us, most fair to look upon; but only if we render thanks to their Maker for them and worship God who made them, not the creation which does Him service. Then praise God, dearly beloved, in all His works and judgments.

Cherish an undoubting belief in the Virgin’s pure conception.

Honor the sacred and Divine Mystery of man’s restoration with holy and sincere service.

Embrace Christ born in our flesh, that you may deserve to see Him also as the God of glory reigning in His majesty, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit remains in the unity of the Godhead for ever and ever. Amen.

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