O Virgin

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

JMJ

Sarum Use (the ancient liturgical of the Cathedral of Salisbury) has one extra Great O Antiphon, assigned to the Blessed Virgin. For this reason, while Catholics begin with O Sapientia on the 17th, Anglicans have, quite often, began on the 16th, so that O Virgo could be sung on the 23rd. This practice has fallen out of favour recently. The official C of E office book, Daily Prayer, follows the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. I have always liked the O Virgo and prefer to use it at least for this annual series of posts.

There are other O Antiphons as well. The Catholic Encylopedia notes:

but other medieval Breviaries added (1) “O virgo virginum quomodo fiet” etc., still retained in the Roman Breviary as the proper antiphon to the Magnificat in the second Vespers of the feast Expectatio Partus B. M. V. (18 December), the prayer of this feast being followed by the antiphon “O Adonai” as a commemoration of the ferial office of 18 December; (2) “O Gabriel, nuntius cœlorum”, subsequently replaced, almost universally, by the thirteenth-century antiphon, “O Thoma Didyme”, for the feast of the Apostle St. Thomas (21 December). Some medieval churches had twelve greater antiphons, adding to the above (1) “O Rex Pacifice”, (2) “O Mundi Domina”, (3) “O Hierusalem”, addressed respectively to Our Lord, Our Lady, and Jerusalem. Guéranger gives the Latin text of all of these (except the “O Mundi Domina”), with vernacular prose translation (“Liturgical Year”, Advent, Dublin, 1870, 508-531), besides much devotional and some historical comment. The Parisian Rite added two antiphons (“O sancte sanctorum” and “O pastor Israel”) to the seven of the Roman Rite and began the recitation of the nine on the 15th of December.

Catholics are often accused of worshipping Mary as a Goddess. I get the reasoning, even though I disagree. There is nothing said about Mary (other than naming her Mother of God) that cannot be said in a way about all Christians. Her role is special, though, in that she bore the graces of the faith by God’s grace alone, rather than through sacramental participation in Christ.

If mankind is seen as fallen (and what needs to be forgotten to not see that?) then Mary’s sinless status must be seen as a restoration of her – along – to that state humanity enjoyed before the Fall. We cannot imagine what all that entails! Unbroken communion with God and a full and total detachment from the things of this world, from all venial and mortal sins; from undue attachment to anything that would destroy her Communion. She lives in this intimacy constantly and, although it doesn’t make her a Goddess, it does elevate her far beyond the status of daily mundanity. Her prayers are efficacious because of her relationship with her son, and because of this constant communion.

For God’s incarnation among us, the Earth offers a cave, the animals their stall, the angels their song, but humanity offers the Blessed and All-Pure Virgin. The titles awarded to Mary by the Church (East and West) are without number. She is the finest offering of our humanity to God. And yet her humility is endless for she knows that even so she is only worthy by God’s grace, only able by his strength, to do what must be done.

We are not to marvel at her. Everything Mary does points to God. Her Immaculate Conception is the grace of Baptism. Her overshadowing by the Holy Spirit (and again at Pentecost) is the Confirmation which we all enjoy. Her burial and assumption is the same death we will all undergo, her coronation is the promise of our eternal glory. Her intercession is the grace of prayer in which we all participate. Even her virginal conception is echoed in our participation in the Holy Mass and the reception of the Sacred Mysteries which bring infinity into us, making us – like her – to be “more spacious than the heavens.” This is “a divine mystery”. She begs us not to marvel at her but at God’s grace in her life and in ours.

This is the position of the Christian before God: to accept even a final “well down” as underserved save by God’s grace for without him we can do nothing; but with him all things are possible. Nothing we do should point to us but rather to God’s grace active in our lives.

The manger, the cross, the grave, and the tomb, these are the signposts that bring us all through our lives to God. Mary walks with us – prays with us – along this same way, but she has already walked it. God, her son, knows this way intimately.

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

JMJ

Have you ever heard of a pamphlet called The Four Spiritual Laws? I think it was written in 1965 by the folks at Campus Crusade for Christ (which is now, evidently, just called “Cru“) and it is still one of the most popular tools of “Street Evangelism”. It lists the four most-basic premises of the Christian Message:

  1. God loves us
  2. We’re a mess
  3. God sent us Jesus
  4. We’re supposed to do something in response

Although it’s boiled down so much as to be meaningless, it has brought thousands (if not millions) of folks into the discussion about Jesus. I think the steps are correct as far as they go: there’s at least a year of teaching that can go into each point. The Church’s 2,000-year history would agree with each point and could weave a tale as long as the 2,000 years and longer to tell the four stories and after you have spent all 8,000 years hearing the stories, you’d still only be walking along the periphery.

The real story of the Gospel is that deep: you dive in and it just keeps going. That’s why today’s verse is so very important. God With Us. See: God is evangelizing us.

This babe in a manger, this infant on his mother’s lap, this child needs to have his diapers changed, and feeds at his mother’s breast is the Lord and Creator of the Universe who has come to be one of us that we may go to be with him. God has become man that man might become God.

In the ancient understanding of the economy of salvation, all of humanity fell in Adam and Eve’s failure in the garden. It’s not a question of culpability: but of simple, spiritual genetics. Our parents cannot pass on to us anything that they are not. They cannot pass on to us the intimate connection with God which they had before the fall because they no longer enjoy that. We cannot “recover” it since we never had it. We wouldn’t know it if it bit us in the backside, as the saying goes.

But God has entered into human history, a slob like one of us, trying to make his way home. And it’s not that he had to do this to understand us, but rather, so we could understand him.

The titles offered to Jesus in this verse all belong to Caesar: God, King, Lawgiver, Savior, Lord. The Church sees in this baby all the things that Augustus (along with Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, etc) wanted the world to see in him. And we should rightly acclaim him as such. But God with us means so much more: for what we have is a God who is like us in every way except sin.

That does not mean that God knows what it feels like to [fill in the blank] because feeling is not important. And someone might be happy at [fill in the blank] or have any other number of emotions. What it does mean is that anything a human does (save sin), God has done. These acts become divine actions, sacraments in which we can participate. God has fed at his mother’s breast. God has cried in the night and woke up his parents. God has been alone in the dark. God has woke up from nightmares. God had favorite foods (and was probably convinced that his own mother’s hummus was better than anyone else’s). God has gone to the bathroom, and as a toddler probably did that right on the street. This God has gone swimming with friends.

Bo Bartlett’s Laughing Christ

This God has washed dishes for his mother. This God has helped his father at work. This God has learned a trade. This God has said his prayers. When we do these things, we are following in God’s footsteps. We can – if we wish – do each of these things and so many more in memory of him.

God did not need to do any of these things to give him sympathy for us. If that were the case, then God failed, for does he know what it’s like to work on the internet or to have indoor plumbing? No. Does he know what it’s like to be a woman? Or an ethnic minority? No. So if it were a case of simply a God who understands us he no longer does. God redrew the map: so that each of these human actions is sacramentalized in his doing of them. God has even shown us that resisting temptation leads us to holiness.

God does not need to learn about us: rather, we need to learn about him. And God-with-us has made that very easy indeed. He has drawn us into the discussion. God has evangelized us.

O King

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

JMJ

Making both one? Walk back through the O Antiphons. They tell a story of division and union.

  • Wisdom is sought in the first one just so we can understand what’s happening. But the Sophia of the Wisdom tradition is through all the world dispersed. Wisdom rules the whole world equally.
  • Adonai is invoked next. He’s the Lord of Israel and the giver of the Law. The Lord does not rule the whole world.
  • Root of Jesse is a sign that one family has been selected out of the whole world to do this. World > Israel > Judah > Jesse > David > Joseph & Mary > Jesus.
  • Key of David is the way Jesus unlocks the hidden meanings of the scriptures, so that even Gentiles might, by the light of his wisdom, read their story there.
  • Dayspring is the way Jesus unlocks the hidden meanings of nature, the first Bible and common to all. As Divine Wisdom has ordered all things sweetly, suddenly we see that it all points to Jesus.
  • King is Jesus uniting all these worlds: the Jew and Gentile, the Scriptural and the Natural, the particularity of one man and the universality of the whole world. But more: Jesus unites humanity to Godhead in his person. The great divisions are destroyed.

In short, the Christian claim is that it’s only ever been all about Jesus. It’s always been about the center point of all history, of all time, of all space. All that is true must point to Jesus: all that is untrue can only point away.

All divisions cease, there is no us and them: there is only God who is all in all.

O Dawn

O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

JMJ

And why not? We sing this verse at Vespers on the 20th (in Anglican tradition) or on the 21st (in Roman Catholic and Western Rite Orthodoxy). So it comes either side of the “longest night”, which can fit both the night of the 20th-21st as well as the 21st-22nd. The solstice traditionally being marked on the 21st at sunrise in the cultures of the European North. What has any of that to do with us? It’s totally incorrect to say that “Christmas was a pagan holiday that Constantine’s Church stole. There are a LOT of articles out there about this, but my favorite, and the oldest, I think, is by an old friend of this blog (in a previous incarnation), Dr William Tighe: Calculating Christmas lays out all the reasons that 25 December was not “stolen” and, quite possibly, is Jesus’ actual birthday.

And why not?

I believe Jesus is not only God incarnate but the entire reason for the universe, the sum total of all history and the omega point from which all other events are only typological shadows. The Incarnation was not “Plan B” after a surprising mistake in the garden. God is all-knowing: the fall was expected, the need for salvation understood, and the Incarnation was the idea all along. Christmas – and Easter 33 years later – was the entire point.

The Jews had all of their prophetic history from Abraham until John the Baptist to prepare them for the coming of Messiah. The rest of the world did not have these things. Yet, as Christ was brought to them, they saw the truth and were ready. What prepared them?

And all of nature – including the Winter Solstice itself – is set up by God to point the way to his own glory: the Fathers teach that Nature, herself, is the first Bible. “All the earth is a memorial to thee, a presence of thy works” (Odes of Solomon, 11). And Saint Maximus the Confessor points out that the sun itself is a sign of Christ. ” The Sun that rises and illumines the world, it makes itself visible as well as the objects it illumines. It is the same with the Sun of Righteousness. When he rises in a mind that has been purified, he makes himself scene in addition to the logoi of the objects he has created.”

The Vikings did not have the Old Testament: they had Odin hanging on his tree for wisdom, though, and the Winter Solstice. The Celts did not have the Old Testament, but the entire nation of Ireland converted without bloodshed or protest. American Indians, Aztecs, Mayans, they all saw something they couldn’t reject. The Chinese, too, and the Indians, saw something in this strange, incarnate God from Israel that met their local, already prepared souls. Each one saw something foretold in their cultures, and each one found it fulfilled in Christ.

And why not? If God can work through the Hebrew prophets, the religious leaders of a “stubborn and stiff-necked people,” to bring about the Blessed Virgin Mary and her divine Son, Jesus, then what can he bring about through the rest of us? Isaiah even calls King Cyrus (of Persia) the Messiah! Thus says the Lord to his anointed, (that is “Messiah” in Hebrew) to Cyrus, whom he has taken by his right hand to subdue nations before him and strip the loins of kings, to force gateways before him that their gates be closed no more: I will go before you levelling the heights. I will shatter the bronze gateways, smash the iron bars. I will give you the hidden treasures, the secret hoards, that you may know that I am the Lord. (Isaiah 45:1–3) Elsewhere (I’m having trouble finding it, to be honest…) God says to Israel, I’ve called you, but I’ve also called these other peoples to do other things.” And so God was at work everywhere.

The Church even commemorates Augustus Caesar on Christmas, noting in the Martyrology for 25 December, that the incarnation happened, “in the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, when the whole world was at peace”. The traditional teaching being that God arranged even the Roman Empire so that there was a common language, and roads, and trade among all so that the faith could be spread that much further.

So, “you’re only saying Jesus was born now to imitate the pagans.” No, actually, Jesus was born now exactly to imitate the pagans: they’re expecting him.

And why not? He’s their God, too.

O Key of David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

JMJ

What is happening here? After yesterday’s particularity, the coming Christchild is called the key of David, seemingly reverting back to something less-particular. I struggle with this verse every year because the rod of David’s father is now David’s key. What is happening here?

David is known for ruling Israel, begetting Solomon the Wise, and writing the Psalms. How is Jesus the Key of David?

The Psalms are considered by Christian tradition to be the prophetic heart of the Old Testament. In the Orthodox Church David is called a prophet for his crafting of these texts. But it is not clear how many many messianic images are here to be fulfilled until one begins to notice how often the Psalms come up in the New Testament and in the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic texts. The Church has read this whole book in the light of Christ since the very beginning.

Monastics in the desert prayed these texts from memory, meditating on the words, the word order, and the progression of symbols. St Gregory of Nyssa even found salubrious content in the inscriptions for the Psalms! From this process of prayer and meditation, the Church has allowed David’s deepest meaning to be unveiled, unlocked by Christ.

So Christ is the key of the Psalms and so of all the Hebrew Scriptures. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) He unlocks the text and no one can shut it. Once you see the meaning, you can’t unsee it. And all of even his own life points to his death.

The dirty wood of the manger becomes the dirty word of the cross. The swaddling clothes become the winding sheets of the tomb. The tears of joy from his mother become her deepest sadness at the cross. The shepherds who worship become the crowd of scorners. The Kings doing homage become the soldiers and officials taunting him. The blood and water of birth become the blood and water from his side. The angels Gloria becomes stunned silence. The lost family looking for a place to lay a new baby becomes the lost friends looking for a place to lay a dead man. Jesus is the key… everything is unlocked.

What does Jesus lock? Escape is no longer an option. We have more on that in the next post on the antiphons.

O Root

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

JMJ

At the heart of the story of the Incarnation is one family, one mother, one Child. We can see this: God working through an ever-tightening circle, from All the World to > All Israel > Southern Kingdom > Tribe of Judah > Jesse’s family >Joseph and Mary > Jesus. But the target, even at the end, is All the World. God uses one particular thing. One and only one.

Christmas shares not only God’s love for us but also God’s love for each one of us, for you, for me, as individuals. See: God works through individual actions, individual choices, individual moments. God literally has to do this because he has given us this world of time, of space, where the only thing that ever exists is this moment now. Yes, God is Almighty and he can act in history but history only comes in the smallest of individual moments, one at a time. Each moment incarnating and passing away like the tiny ovum that becomes a full-grown baby and then a man who dies, but only one moment at a time.

The Root of Jesse means only one person: not all the tribe of Judah, not all of Israel, but only this one person, born of one person, born of one person, etc. God acting even in ancient times: through prostitutes and adulterers. Through gentiles and evil villains. Through kings and commoners. All these made up Jesus’ family tree! God’s final act is coming soon: a cowshed, smelling of poop and dirt, and the standard-issue human birth in blood and water. A baby.

God loves us this much. And not just us: you are loved this much. One particular birth for one particular soul. The Radix Jesse in exchange for you.

This is why kings stand silent. No human leader or head of state knows his people like Jesus knows you, even if you don’t follow him or believe he exists. Jesus knows you, was born for you, died for you. While I believe the reigning Monarchs of the world have human interactions, I’m not at all sure about the elected politicians. They seem grossly out of touch. Jesus, however, knows you.

The particular of you will be different. But for me, it dawned on me, last week that Jesus loved me, died for me, knowing of all my sexual sins, all my addictions, all my failures of pride, gluttony, sloth, and envy. Jesus loved me first despite all that and thought it was worth it to enter history, to give up heavenly glory, to humbly submit to the will of the Father, to die for me.

As the Christmas Carol says, “Who would not love him, loving us so dearly?” My brothers and sisters, not us, but me? How can I not love this God, this Man, this particular baby, this particular birth in that it shows so much love for me?

Come along: know his love for you. The rod of Jesse’s stem sprung forth for us from a withered stump, rises without delay to deliver each of us.

O Lord

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

JMJ

The first antiphon spoke of the Wisdom of God which can seem abstract, unless you know the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. The second antiphon is far less abstract. This one uses a title of God in the Old Testament, and highlights what may have been missing if the first antiphon was left to stand on its own. He who is coming at Christmas is God. Adonai.

Since we speak of God the Word, the Christian tradition has held that anytime God speaks in the Old Testament, it has been God the Word that was heard, the Second Person of the Trinity. So this verse speaks of Jesus as the one “who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai.” Jesus is not only the Word of God, he is also the only Word ever spoken.

“By him were all things made” says St John. “And without him was not anything made that has been made.” Thomas Aquinas, following the Fathers, teaches that God is the Essence and Being Subsisting, “Deus est ipsum esse per se subsistens. God’s essence is his Being, his being is his Essence. The all others participate in Being because of God, we have essence because of our relationship to God.

This is the God who comes to us at Christmas.

And this is why his coming is so inspiring of our Love: what do you know of babies? They are weak? Yes, the almighty God became weak for love of us. The outstretched arm that comes to save us shivers in the cold and can only clasp a finger. They are helpless? Yes, the defender of Israel became helpless, the provider of all needing a mother’s breast, the warmth of her arms, the protection of a father. Babies are not only unlearned but they are not yet able to learn at all. The synapses of their brain are not yet even formed to fire. The Word that spoke all things into being cannot even form words to speak. The wisdom behind all things cannot even think thoughts. How is this possible?

Love makes it so. The humility of God the Son before the plans of the Father makes it so. Yet I cannot understand it, how the Majesty of Supernal Radiance can leap silently into the arms of a human woman to mess his own diapers, to teethe and to suffer the embarrassment of acne and school yard bullies. How is God so in love with us that he would do this?

And yet we offer only scorn in return and he takes that too. If you hold out a finger you will feel how strong his hands are. Adonai.

O Wisdom

OWisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

JMJ

Sapientiatide, the last 8 days before Christmas (9, if you’re Anglican) is possibly the best season of the Church Year. It’s 8 days of intense theology, both in the Mass and in the Office, underscoring what the Church teaches is happening at Christmas. If you don’t do the readings, the office, the minor propers you’re going to miss out on all of this, but each day is a meditation on who is coming and why.

Today’s antiphon, sung tonight at Vespers and as the verse before the Gospel in the Novus Ordo Masses for today, addresses the Wisdom of God. She is called Σοφία Sophia in some books of the Old Testament, and חָכְמָ֣ה Hokhmah in others. And despite the fact that she is always she, she is also a pre-incarnation manifestation of the Son of God. The Wisdom of God is God the Son, how?

In relation to God the Father, the prime active principle of all being, all being is receptive, including God the Son. We are, before God, all passive recipients. God the Son responds in Love to God the Father but is passive and receptive before the Father’s action. The Word is passive before the speaker of the Word. God’s Wisdom proceeds from the mouth of the Father not volitionally but rather in passive response.

In that procession, Wisdom comes to teach us the way of prudence, of following the pattern of divine order. Only recently, and only in the wealthy, lazed, and debauched “first world” have we begun to question the most ancient of teachings common to all humanity. We have forgotten the way of prudence, which Divine Wisdom comes to teach us.

All is passive in comparison to the action of the primary mover. Compared to the Holy Trinity, all of creation is an eternal Yin to God’s Yang, but within the Holy Trinity, even the Son responds not in his own direction but within the Father’s will. And within the Church the entirety of the Church, men and women, displays a passive relationship to Christ the Divine Bridegroom. This is a deep mystery. Before God are all passive, receptive.

Wisdom is coming to teach us. Without Wisdom we can only kick against the goads of divine order. Through Wisdom God’s participation invites us into the dance that is the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. We can join the dance of the Son and the Father for the Son is one of us, and through the Holy Spirit we are one in him.

The Christmas Proclamation

+JMJ+

This text gets read at Prime this morning in the Extraordinary Form of the Office. There is no Prime in the Little Office of Paul VI (let the Reader Understand), so it doesn’t get read mostly, although it gets plopped in a la carte in where it might go sometimes.

December 25th anno Domini 2018 The 18th Day of Moon

In the year 5199th from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, in the year 2957th from the flood, in the year 2015th from the birth of Abraham, in the year 1510th from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses, in the year 1032th from the anointing of David as King, in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel, in the 194th Olympiad, in the 752nd from the foundation of the city of Rome, in the 42nd year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus, in the 6th age of the world, while the whole earth was at peace, Jesus Christ, Himself Eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, being pleased to hallow the world by His most gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and when nine months were passed after His conception, (all kneel down) was born of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem of Juda made Man, (sung loudly, in the the tone of the Passion) Our Lord Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh.

Octavo Kalendas Ianuarii Luna duodevicesima Anno 2018 Domini
Anno a creatióne mundi, quando in princípio Deus creávit cælum et terram, quinquiés millésimo centésimo nonagésimo nono; a dilúvio autem, anno bis millésimo nongentésimo quinquagésimo séptimo; a nativitáte Abrahæ, anno bis millésimo quintodécimo; a Móyse et egréssu pópuli Israel de Ægýpto, anno millésimo quingentésimo décimo; ab unctióne David in Regem, anno millésimo trigésimo secúndo; Hebdómada sexagésima quinta, iuxta Daniélis prophétiam; Olympíade centésima nonagésima quarta; ab urbe Roma cóndita, anno septingentésimo quinquagésimo secúndo; anno Impérii Octaviáni Augústi quadragésimo secúndo, toto Orbe in pace compósito, sexta mundi ætáte, Iesus Christus, ætérnus Deus æterníque Patris Fílius, mundum volens advéntu suo piíssimo consecráre, de Spíritu Sancto concéptus, novémque post conceptiónem decúrsis ménsibus (Hic vox elevatur, et omnes genua flectunt), in Béthlehem Iudæ náscitur ex María Vírgine factus Homo. (Hic autem in priori voce dicitur, et in tono passionis🙂 Natívitas Dómini nostri Iesu Christi secúndum carnem.

O Virgin

+JMJ+

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

This Antiphon, from the Use of Sarum, is common among Anglo-Catholics. I’m not sure but maybe it has come to the Anglican Use Catholics as well. It’s not part of the traditional Roman use, but once upon a time there were other O Antiphons as well. The 6 or 7 we use are fine.

Let me make bold to offer a correction to the English of our accepted text here… not because it’s wrong in the translation, but because I think, for brevity’s sake, it misses the point. It may be singable, but that’s not what I want to do just now.

Try this:

The Daughters of Jerusalem say:
“O Virgin of virgins,
how shall this be?
For neither before was any like thee,
nor shall there be after.”
And Our Blessed Lady responds:
“Daughters of Jerusalem,
why marvel ye at *me*?
Divine is the Mystery you discern.”

That is what Our Lady does: she always points away from her self – to Christ. And she does so in the hymns of the Church as well, although common folklore can creep in and create a near goddess (as in the case with the Joy of All Who Sorrow icon, or the devotion to Our Lady Multiplier of Wheat) or a Perfect Mommy (as in some Latin and Mediterranean devotions). We can stretch it very far, though, before it breaks and, even in the most Mary-Centered moments, if we let her speak, she still points us towards her Divine Human Son.

Christmas is, of course, one of those moments. The Baby is easy to overlook while surrounded by all these adults. Mary is most evident: in the English mystery plays she even births the Child by herself while Joseph is out trying to find midwives. We can over-emphasise her place, to the point where, like the hymn, we seemingly mix the “mother and child” image into one of “Round yon Virgin”.

The iconic tradition is to always show her with her Child – although some more recent icons show her alone. The Western tradition seems to emphasise her virginity over and above all things while the Eastern seems to emphasise her role as the Birth-Giver of God. But the hymn has it right: “Round yon virgin mother… and child” Her virginity is good, yes, but meaningless without her motherhood and the reverse is equally true. It is not what or who she is that is important but rather what and who she is in relation to Christ that is important. This is true of all of us: none of us is anything save in relation to Christ. And no human being (even those who deny it) is without this relationship. For Human Nature is one in all of us including the God-Man (or God-Baby) Jesus.

Christ is the only way God makes himself known – all truth about God comes through Christ, the Law of Moses, the visit of Angels to Abraham, and even, according to St Justin, the True teachings of Socrates, Plato and so on (the Truth of Lao Tzu, of the Hopi, of anyone) is there to the degree that Christ revealed it. Without that Truth revealed in Christ there is no truth at all. The same is true of our relationships, of our humanity. We become fully who we are only in Christ. Mary is who she is only because of Christ. I will, God willing, one day become who God Created me to be – but only because of Christ. No one can be fully human with out that – because therein we find the true source of our Humanity.

Mary does, in this antiphon, exactly what our ancient spiritual ancestors, the Martyrs, did: rejecting all honours, forfeiting even what is rightfully hers to say, “This is a divine mystery, I have no crown but Christ. Look at my Son.” There, in her self-emptying which follows her Son’s own self-emptying, we find the one thing that we, too, must do: we must pour ourselves out, give ourselves away to make Him more present in our lives and to our neighbours.

The only Christmas Present is Christ given through yourself to another.

—————-

This is the last meditation in the Advent Series. Advent is over, but we’re not there yet. We have come to the cave, we now await only the miracle.

Apolytikion:
Be thou ready, Bethlehem, Eden hath opened unto all.
Ephratha, prepare thyself, for now, behold,
the Tree of life hath blossomed forth
in the cave from the Holy Virgin.
Her womb hath proved a true spiritual Paradise,
wherein the divine and saving Tree is found,
and as we eat thereof we shall all live,
and shall not die as did Adam.
For Christ is born now
to raise the image that had fallen aforetime.

Kontakion:
On this day the Virgin cometh to a cave
to give birth to God the Word ineffable,
Who was before all the ages.
Dance for joy, O earth,
on hearing the gladsome tidings;
with the Angels and the shepherds
now glorify Him Who is willing
to be gazed on as a young Child
Who before the ages is God.

I thank you for joining me on these meditations. A blessed Christmas – Christ is Born! Glorify Him!