Epistle: Colossians 2:8-12 (St. Basil, January 1)
Gospel: Luke 2:20-21, 40-51 (The Circumcision, January 1)
One of the great monastic fathers and reformers of the Medieval Catholic Church, Bernard of Clairvaux, in a sermon says that before the Incarnation, the divine “kindness lay concealed.” But on Christmas Day what was hidden is made manifest “the mercy of God … from all eternity.” He then asks his listeners: How it is that we now know that “peace is no longer promised, but conferred; no longer delayed, but given; no longer predicted, but bestowed”?
We know all this and more because in Jesus Christ “God has sent down to earth a bag bulging with his mercy, a bag that, at the passion, is torn open so that our ransom pours out of it onto us.” But what matters most is that in the Incarnation it is a “small bag, … but a full one: for it was a small child that was given to us, but in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead.”
The mercy and love and kindness of God—great though they are—are revealed in the humility of the Son. God makes reveals His wealth not in power but in the excess of Jesus’ poverty. The fullness of the Godhead is revealed “to our earthly minds” through God taking on our sinful flesh. Again, as Bernard has it, “In what way, indeed, could he have better commended his kindness than by assuming my flesh? My flesh, that is, not Adam’s, as it was before the fall.”
Where I flee in shame from my sin, God embraces my sin in His love for me. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to humble himself so that he can exalt me. He doesn’t withhold anything of his own and, in so doing, gives everything He has to me. He makes himself poor and weak and scorned so that I can be made wealthy, strong and loved.
Let man infer from this how much God cares for him. Let him know from this what God thinks of him, what he feels about him. Man, do not ask about your own sufferings; but about what God suffered. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you, so that his kindness may show itself to you from his humanity.
There is not an event in the life of Jesus, including His circumcision which we commemorate today, that does not make manifest His full and complete humanity. And in so doing, there is not an event in His life that does not reveal the superabundance of God’s kindness and love for each of us.
It is in His kindness, and love, and mercy, and forgiveness toward us that we find our security. And it is in Him and in His defied humanity that we find the confidence not simply to be called Christians, as St Ignatius of Antioch has it, but to actually be Christians, to actually be—like Jesus Christ—living sacraments of God’s kindness, and love, and mercy, and forgiveness for humanity and all creation.
We can because all this because Jesus emptied Himself in His kindness for us. All that he became, we can become but only if, like Him, we empty ourselves. And what does it mean to empty myself but to allow his kindness and humility to draw me more and more out of myself in love of Him and you?