Augustine’s Sermon 185 which is entitled “On Christmas Day” in the Patrologia Latina, is a sermon preached by Augustine where he describes the grace of the Birthday of the Lord

What greater grace could have shone upon us from God, than that having his only-begotten Son he should make him a Son of man, and thus in exchange make the Son of man into the Son of God? Look for merit there, look for a cause, look for justice; and see whether you can find anything but grace.

This year, this Sermon comes alive once more to us as Pope Benedict uses a line from it as his Christmas greeting: Wake up, mankind; for you God became man. And Augustine continues…

…Rise you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you (Eph. 5:14). For you, I repeat, God became man. You would have died for eternity unless he had been born in time. You would never be set free from the flesh of sin, unless he had taken to himself the likeness of the flesh of sin (Rom. 8:3). You would have been in the grip of everlasting misery, had it not been for the occurrence of this great mercy. You would not have come back to life, unless he had adjusted himself to your death. You would have faded away, if he had not come to the rescue. You would have perished, if he had not come.

The Sermon is composed of three numbered paragraphs and structured by Augustine’s meditation on Psalm 85:11. “Truth has sprung from the earth and Justice looked down from heaven.” “Truth has sprung from the earth” is explained in paragraph 1, while “Justice looked down from heaven” is elaborated in paragraph 2. Finally, Augustine points out how Psalm 85:11 becomes a sort of commentary on Romans 5:1-2, a Pauline passage that tells how man has gained outright access to God through justification in Christ. This short meditation is then connected to the song of the angels in Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the Highest and peace on earth to all men of goodwill”.

This Sermon is meditative, not argumentative (e.g. Sermon 186 where Augustine seems to be arguing against the Arians) and is best read in the light of Augustine’s Ennarations on Psalm 85. The present Sermon actually underlines Augustine’s Christological understanding of the Psalm.

One unfamiliar with Augustine’s Church and world might as well ask: “What is the value of this Sermon for a time like ours?” My answer will be that at a time when consumerism has taken over “the Christmas spirit” and human diginity has been reduced to what one has and does, then it is well to look at the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas is, as Augustine says, “Truth has sprung from the earth, and Justice has looked down from heaven.” Christ, the Word of God made flesh is the ultimate Truth about God and man. In Him God is known, and through Him man is revealed to Himself. You look for the dignity of man? Look for it in Christ! You want to know why man has this dignity? Look for it in Christ. “Justice has looked down from heaven” Man does not have anything of himself that has not been given from above. The value of man derives directly from God who created and saved Him, and not from any of his works or from anything he has acquired. Christmas is not just a holiday season where we can feel good. Christmas is the event that reveals our value by the one who has loved us. “God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son.” (Jn. 3:15) And it is an event that is re-called
and re-presented so that we will never forget how we are known from all eternity.

With St. Augustine, and with Pope Benedict XVI, I greet you “Merry Christmas.”

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