[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—19 December 2020, Saturday in the Third Week of Advent
[The image is of a late-twelfth-century ivory carving of the metaphor of the root of Jesse (radixJesse), which is the theme of the O Antiphon for 19 December.]
The Promise of a New Exodus
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.”
Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I will make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff; you shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them. And you shall rejoice in the LORD; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together; that men may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
St. Maximus of Turin
Sermo 61A, 1-3 (Corpus Christianorum Latina 23, 249.250-251)
Even if I were to keep silence, my friends, the season would warn us that the birthday of Christ our Lord is at hand. The year is coming to an end and forestalls the subject of my sermon. The depressing shortness of the days itself testifies to the imminence of some event which will bring about the betterment of a world urgently longing for a brighter sun to dispel its darkness. In spite of fearing that its course may be terminated within a few brief hours, the world still shows signs of hope that its yearly cycle will once more be renewed. And if creation feels this hope, it persuades us also to hope that Christ will come like a new sunrise to shed light on the darkness of our sins, and that the Sun of Justice, in the vigour of his new birth, will dispel the long night of guilt from our hearts. Rather than allow the course of our life to come to an end with such appalling brevity, we are confident that he will extend it by his powerful grace.
Since even the physical world informs us that our Lord’s birthday is at hand, let us follow the earth’s example. I mean that as from Christmas Day onward the earth enjoys lengthening periods of daylight, so we too should imitate it by growing in holiness. And as rich and poor alike share the same light of Christmas, so we should share what we have with the needy and with strangers. From Christmas Day onward the earth begins to throw off its nocturnal gloom, and we in our turn should curtail the darkness of our greed.
So, my brothers, let us array ourselves in clear and shining garments to welcome the Lord’s birthday. The garments I speak of are for the soul, not the body. Our care must be lavished on the precious works of love, not on robes of silk. Beautiful clothes may cover our limbs, but they leave our conscience unadorned. In fact, to parade about with one’s body splendidly attired brings a person even greater disgrace if, in so doing, his heart is inwardly defiled. We must first ennoble our inward desires, then our outward apparel will be beautiful. We must cleanse ourselves of spiritual stains if our bodily raiment is to appear bright and shining. It is useless to wear dazzling clothes while our souls are squalid with sin; a darkened conscience means that the whole body is plunged in gloom.
However, we have in our possession the means of washing away the stains from our conscience. Scripture tells us: give alms, and then everything will be clean for you. How precious an injunction this is! By giving alms with our hands, we are cleansed in our inmost hearts.