[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—25 December
A READING FROM THE PROPHET ISAIAH
THE ROOT OF JESSE: ISAIAH 11:1-10
[ Peaceable Kingdom with Two Olives by Will Bullas ]
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.
A READING FROM A SERMON BY ST AUGUSTINE
SERMON 192, 1 & 3. TR. PLUSCARDEN.
Today Truth has sprung up from the earth; Christ is born in the flesh. We must celebrate this day of joy as worthily as we can. It’s a day which of its nature impels us to consider also the everlasting day, so we must not fail to turn our minds to that also: with hope that cannot be shaken, we should yearn for gifts that are eternal. Today we have received the power to be called children of God, so let us boldly be what we are. For our sake, the bringer-about of all time was himself brought into time; for our sake the maker of the world appeared in the flesh; for our sake the Creator was created. So why do we who must still die still seek our joy in perishable things; why do we put so much futile effort into clutching on to this fleeting life? A much brighter hope has now lit up the whole earth: it promises, even to us who live on earth, eternal life in heaven.
Is this difficult to believe? Well, something much more difficult to believe has already happened. God’s promise is to make men gods. Well, God has already himself been made a man. He did not lose what he was, yet he chose to become what he himself had made. He added our humanity to his divinity, but he did not in any way lose his divinity in our humanity.
We wonder when told that a child has been born of a Virgin. When we try to convince unbelievers, we tell them it’s a completely new way of being born. A new shoot of the human race has sprung up as if from soil without seed; a son of man has been born without any intervention of a human father; virginal integrity has remained intact, both in the conception of a child, and in its bringing to birth. The power that can accomplish all this makes us wonder: but even more wonderful was the mercy that prompted it. It’s wonderful that he could be born in this way: it’s even more wonderful that he chose to be born in this way. For he was the only-begotten of his Father, and he was born today as the only-begotten of his mother. He was made within his mother; yet he was the one who had previously made his mother for himself. He who existed eternally with his Father, today was born in time of his mother. He who was made from his mother, after his mother had been made, was before all creation with his Father; and like his Father was himself unmade. The Father was never without his Son. Without her Son, his mother would never have existed at all.
Let us all together then, perfectly united in mind and heart, celebrate today the birthday of the Lord. Let us celebrate with chaste hearts and holy affections the day on which Truth sprang up from the earth. Does anyone think lightly of this Truth, if it sprang up from the earth? Let him consider that in order that it might come from the earth, it first came down from heaven. He who is this Truth came down in order to raise us up. Let us then learn to be rich in the one who became poor for our sake. Let us accept freedom from the one who for our sake accepted the form of a slave. In the one who for our sake sprang up from the earth, let us in turn take possession of heaven.