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Morning over the bay

The Mystery

St. John Chrysostom

Available languages: Deutsch

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St. John Chrysostom (c.347–407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking. John's homilies have been one of his greatest lasting legacies.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a mother who has brought forth new life; I see a child come to this light by birth. The manner of his conception I cannot comprehend. Nature here is overcome, the boundaries of the established order set aside, where God so wills. For not according to nature has this thing come to pass. Nature here has rested, while the will of God labored. O, ineffable grace!

The only begotten One, who is before all ages, who cannot be touched or be perceived, who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, which is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that we mortals cannot see. For since we believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, we doubt that which they do not see, and so he has deigned to show himself in bodily presence, that he may remove all doubt.

And he was born from a virgin, who knew not his purpose; neither had she labored with him to bring it to pass, nor contributed to that which he had done, but was the simple instrument of his hidden power. That alone she knew which she had learned by her question to Gabriel: "How shall this be done, because I know not a man?" Then said he: "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee."

And in what manner was the Almighty with her, who came forth from her? He was as the craftsman, who coming on some suitable material, fashions to himself a beautiful vessel; so Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for himself a living temple, and as he had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature…

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And he who cannot be touched, who is without complexity, incorporeal, now lies subject to human hands. He who has broken the bonds of sinners is now bound by an infant's bands.

But he has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and abject humiliation the measure of his goodness. For this he assumed my body, that I may become capable of his word; taking my flesh, he gives me his spirit; and so he bestowing and I receiving, he prepares for me the treasure of life. He takes my flesh to sanctify me; he gives me his Spirit, that he may save me.

Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken. For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side – a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and we now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on earth, while being fully in heaven; and while complete in heaven, he is without diminution on earth. Though he was God, he became man, not denying himself to be God. Though being the unchanging Word, he became flesh that he might dwell amongst us.

What shall I say? What shall I utter? "Behold an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." Mary is present, who is both virgin and mother. Joseph is present, who is called father. He is called husband, she is called wife. The names indeed are lawful, but there is no other bond. We speak here of words, not of "realities."

To Him, then, who out of confusion has wrought a clear path; to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.


This article is an excerpt from Watch for the Light, December 25th. Originally from, “The Joys of Christmas,” from The Living Testament: The Essential Writings of Christianity Since the Bible. New York: Harper and Row, 1985.

sculpture of mary, joseph and jesus
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