Sermon 23 on the Nativity of Christ

by St. Leo the Great

nativitywestern116Our 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.

Christmas morning most appropriate time for thoughts on Nativity

On all days at all times, dearly beloved, does the birth of our Lord and Savior from the Virgin-mother occur to the thoughts of the faithful, who meditate on divine things, that the mind may be aroused to the acknowledgment of its Maker, may employ its spiritual insight on the fact that God the Son of God, begotten of the co-eternal Father, was born by a human birth. But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature, there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery.

For the angel Gabriel’s converse with the astonished Mary and her conception by the Holy Ghost as wondrously promised as believed, seem to recur not only to the memory but to the very eyes.

For today the Maker of the world was born of a Virgin’s womb, and He, who made all natures, became Son of her, whom He created.

Today the Word of God appeared clothed in flesh, and That which had never been visible to human eyes began to be tangible to our hands as well.

Today the shepherds learned from angels’ voices that the Savior was born in the substance of our flesh and soul; and to-day the form of the Gospel message was prearranged by the leaders of the Lord’s flocks, so that we too may say with the army of the heavenly host:

“Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace to men of good will.”

Although, therefore, that infancy, which the majesty of God’s Son did not disdain, reached mature manhood by the growth of years and, when the triumph of His passion and resurrection was completed, all the actions of humility which were undertaken for us ceased, yet to-day’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary; and in adoring the birth of our Savior, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life.

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For the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body. Although every individual that is called has his own order, and all the sons of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time, yet as the entire body of the faithful being born in the font of baptism is crucified with Christ in His passion, raised again in His resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in His ascension, so with Him are they born in this nativity.

For any believer in whatever part of the world that is re-born in Christ, quits the old paths of his original nature and passes into a new man by being re-born; and no longer is he reckoned of his earthly father’s stock but among the seed of the Savior, Who became the Son of the man in order that we might have the power to be the sons of God. For unless He came down to us in this humiliation, no one would reach His presence by any merits of his own.

At the end of the ages is fulfilled that which was ordained from all eternity; and in the presence of realities, when signs and types have ceased, the Law and prophecy have become Truth; and so Abraham is found the father of all nations, and the promised blessing is given to the world in his seed. We with Abraham believe in God and “waver not through unbelief,” but

“know most assuredly that what the Lord promised, He is able to perform.”

Peace with God is His Best gift to man.

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The Savior then, dearly beloved, is born not of fleshly seed but of the Holy Spirit, in such wise that the condemnation of the first transgression did not touch Him. For, as the blessed Apostle teaches,

“we have received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which are given us by God.”

The Apostle says

“being justified therefore by faith let us have peace towards God.”

The mystery of this boon is great, dearly beloved, and this gift exceeds all gifts that God should call man son, and man should name God Father: for by these terms we perceive and learn the love which reached so great a height. If it is gain the praise of men that the father’s glory should shine again in their descendants, how much more glorious is it for those who are born of God to regain the brightness of their Maker’s likeness and display in themselves Him Who begat them, as the Lord says:

“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven?”

We know indeed, as the Apostle John says that

“the whole world lies in the evil one,”

and by the deception of the Devil and his angels numberless attempts are made either to frighten man in his struggle upwards by adversity or to spoil him by prosperity, “

but greater is He that is in us, than he that is against us,”

and they who have peace with God and are always saying to the Father with their whole hearts “thy will be done” can be overcome in no battles, can be hurt by no assaults.

Secure a peace with God that nothing can destroy, by accepting His gracious service, in order that we may not only surrender ourselves in obedience to our King but also be united to Him by our free-will. For if we are like-minded, if we wish what He wishes, and disapprove what He disapproves, He will finish all our wars for us, He Who gave the will, will also give the power: so that we may be fellow-workers in His works, and with the exultation of Faith may utter that prophetic song:

“the Lord is my light and salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life: of whom shall I be afraid!”

The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace: for thus says the Apostle, “He is our peace, who made both one;” since whether we be Jew or Gentile,

“through Him we have access in one Spirit to the Father,”

And it was this in particular that He taught His disciples before the day of His passion which He had of His own free-will fore-ordained, saying:

“My peace I give unto you, My peace I leave for you.”

He added,

“not as the world give I unto you.”

But the peace of the spiritual coming down from above and leading upwards refuses to hold communion with the lovers of the world, resists all obstacles and flies from pernicious pleasures to true joys, as the Lord says,

“Where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also”,

that is, if what you love is below, you will descend to the lowest depth; if what you love is above, you will reach the topmost height.

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There may the Spirit of peace lead and bring us, whose wishes and feeling are at one, and who are of one mind in faith and hope and in charity: since

“as many as are led by the Spirit of God these are sons of God”

Who reigns with the Son and Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

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