Sunday, December 30, 2007

In the fullness of time, Christ comes to us

"While all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course," explains the Introit in the traditional Latin liturgy, "Thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven from Thy royal throne." The Nativity of Our Lord, His glorious day of birth we celebrate, occured at the fullness of time according to Divine Providence. During this liturgical season, we are often quite aware of the details surrounding Christ's birth but yet fail to realize their significance for our lives today. We all face darkness - the darkness of sinfulness yet overcome, the darkness we find at times in prayer or the darkness we see in the world around us. The circumstances of Our Savior's birth has much to teach us about God's will to vanquish the darkness found in all of our lives.

One of the important aspects mentioned in the Introit above is darkness: "the night was in the midst of her course." This darkness is first of all spiritual darkness - that darkness into which we are all born. It is the darkness of sin. One of the principle effects of the fall in the Garden of Eden was the darkening of our intellect. We do not see clearly. The truth often evades us. Left to our own devices, we err. Our mind fails to know the truth, devoid of grace, while our weakened will cannot do the good that we do understand. Every member of humanity suffers under this darkness because of the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. While much time had passed since the fall, the darkness was "in the midst of her course." The dawn had yet to break. Mankind was still lost in the darkness of sin and error, captive to satan.

One of our holy and blessed spiritual fathers had touched on the silence and darkness into which the Word came. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, suffered his martyrdom during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan in 98-117 A.D.[1]. In his letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius mentions "three secrets crying to be told, but wrought in God's silence"[2]. He states:

"Now, Mary's virginity and her giving birth escaped the notice of the prince of this world, as did the Lord's death - those three secrets crying to be told, but wrought in God's silence. How, then, were they revealed to the ages? A star shone in heaven brighter than all the stars. Its light was indescribable and its novelty caused amazement. The rest of the stars, along with the sun and the moon, formed a ring around it; yet it outshone them all, and there was bewilderment whence this unique novelty had arisen. As a result all magic lost its power and all witchcraft ceased. Ignorance was done away with, and the ancient kingdom [of evil] was utterly destroyed, for God was revealing himself as a man, to bring newness of eternal life. What God had prepared was now beginning. Hence everything was in confusion as the destruction of death was being taken in hand"[3].

Before the birth of Christ our Savior, the kingdom of darkness ruled. Nothing appeared to be changing. Everything remained the same. Satan had no reason to believe his rule of darkness would come to a definitive end. Yet in the midst of this silence - that silence that gave no warning of coming to an end - God became man. When it appeared all was lost the "almighty Word [...] leaped down from heaven from [His] royal throne," to borrow words from the Introit. Light broke into the overwhelming darkness: "The people that sat in darkness, hath seen great light: and to them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up" (Matthew 4:16). Who are the people who found sitting in darkness but each one of us, once in the darkness of sin and death but now ransomed from it by Christ in Holy Baptism? Christ is still the light shining in our darkness as we struggle to allow Him to more completely illuminate our soul.

While the primary interpretation of the silence and darkness relates to the Incarnate whereby the Son of God Himself descended from His glory to set us free from the shackles of sin and death, a secondary spiritual application applies to our everyday life. Very often we find ourselves in a state where we cannot see or hear God. He is silent. We're surrounding by darkness. More often then not it seems as if He has abandoned us, left us, and no longer takes concern for us. This silence and darkness may be found when we attempt prayer or when we ask for His assistance but see no apparent answer. We may wait days, weeks or months for His intervention only to find ourselves feeling alone.

We can all derive great comfort from the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. All of creation sat in darkness, still bound under the power of satan. There was no hope of salvation for us, sinners all. In terms of temporal concerns, Israel found itself under the heavy yoke of Roman oppression. Two thousand years later we still understand. We yet battle against the powers of darkness, of sin, in our own members. The modern world is often against all we believe. We may have recourse to prayer only to experience abandonment, seemingly alone. The cry of the Psalmist echos in our night: "We are become a reproach to our neighbours: a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. How long, O Lord, wilt thou be angry for ever: shall thy zeal be kindled like a fire?" (Psalm 78:4-5)

Our faith however must be strong. The Nativity of Our Lord, which we celebrate, teaches us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. In our moments of darkness, in times when God is silent, He looks upon us in love. We may not understand His will in the moment but we can rest assured that He is caring for us just as much as He cared for a world in darkness before He sent His Word for their salvation. As the Apostle says, "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law: That he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). In the glorious mystery of Divine Providence, we do not always see God at work but He is always with us.

First and foremost we must rejoice in the fact that God sent His Son, at the perfect time, to adopt us as Sons. He has set us free from sin, darkness and death. Secondarily, however, we must realize that He still comes to us at "the fulness of the time." We may find ourselves lost in darkness in our prayer life or in our temporal concerns, but God continues to care for us in the darkness. He will shine His glorious light to us, to help and save us, at the perfect time - that perfect time which is known to God in His infinite wisdom but often escapes us in our finite limitation. As His adopted sons, we are never forsaken. That is the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, that glorious birth wrought in the silence and darkness but coming at the fullness of time. Our Lord always comes to save us at the perfect time even though we find ourselves lost in the silence and darkness. May we have a strong faith, always trusting in the goodness of Our Lord Who comes to save us in His love for us.

1. Cyril C. Richardson Ed., "Early Christian Fathers" (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1996), 75.

2. Ibid., 93.

3. Ibid., 93.

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