Christmas II, Year A
The Collect: Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
(Scene from “Tree of Life” (2011), written and directed by Terrence Malick)
The Shepherds learned of the Lord’s infant incarnation through the visitation of an angel, who appeared to them by night engulfed in the Glory of the Lord, which then “shone round about them and they were sore afraid” (KJV, Luke 2:9). Presumably this Glory of the Lord was a blaze of light, far surpassing the brightness of anything the Shepherds had experienced except the noonday sun. After announcing the birth of the Messiah, as prophesied, the angel was joined by “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (KJV, Luke 2:13-14).
The Savior’s birth was a light in the darkness of the world. In Titus we read that his birth, his coming, saved us “not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (NRSV, Titus 3:5). And yet the Psalmist celebrates that “Light has sprung up for the righteous, and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted” (NRSV, Psalm 97:11).
We are tempted to view ourselves as righteous, to think that our actions justify us and make us righteous. The natural man whispers this to us, enticing us to self-righteousness. We think that never missing a day of Church, always tithing, and fulfilling every outward obligation will “earn” us love; that people will love us because we make ourselves great in doing so.
The New Covenant, however, can be stronger than the pull of the natural man. We covenant to become Christ’s, “through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” as explained to Titus, “so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (NRSV, Titus 3:5-7). In fact, it is “because of the covenant which [we] have made” through this baptism referred to in the Epistle that we “shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten [us]; for [we] say that [our] hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, [we] are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). This knowledge shines like a beacon in the gathering darkness, a revelation of a people made heirs with Christ “according to the hope of eternal life” (NRSV, Titus 3:7).
Such knowledge elevates society, making Zion possible. “The LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, ‘See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.’ They shall be called, ‘The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD’; and you shall be called, ‘Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken’ (NRSV, Isaiah 62:11-12).” Truly, “good tidings of great joy,” a powerful injunction of “peace on earth, good will toward men” (KJV, Luke 2:10, 14).