The Dawn of Grace

September 12, 2016 Length: 9:29

Fr. Gregory gives the sermon on the Nativity of the Theotokos.

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“Let the whole creation, therefore, sing praise and dance and unite in celebrating the glories of this day. To-day let there be one common feast of all in heaven and earth. Let everything that is, in and above the earth, join together in rejoicing. For today a shrine is built for the creator of the universe. The creature is newly ready as a divine dwelling for the creator.”  (St. Andrew of Crete)

The nativity of Mary has been kept by the East since the early 6th C, and was adopted by the Western Church in the 7thC, and has been observed on the 8th September ever since.

We know very little historically about the circumstance of the Theotokos’ birth. Traditionally her parents were Anna and Joachim, as found in the Pseudoevangelion of St. James, and also mentioned by St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John of Damascus and others.  Everyone agrees that the birth of the Theotokos was given through the fervent prayers of St. Joachim and St. Anna in their advanced age. As Joachim belonged to the royal family of David, so Anna will have been a descendant of the priestly family of Aaron; thus Christ the Eternal King and Priest sprang from both a royal and priestly family.

The birth of our Lady has often been seen as uniting the old Covenant, that is, the dispensation of the Law, with the New, that is, the fulfilment of the Law in Christ. As St. Andrew of Crete wrote:

The law has achieved its goal with Christ, who leads us away from the letter of the law so as to bring us to the spirit. The law is fulfilled because the lawgiver himself has brought it to completion, transforming in his own person the letter of the spirit, summing up all things in himself and living the law of love. He has made law subject to love, and brought love and law into harmony.

This is the summary of the benefits Christ has secured for us. In Christ the mystery is unveiled, nature is made new, divine and human, and the deification of our human nature has been made possible by God. But so radiant, so glorious a visitation of God among mortals required some prelude of joy to introduce unto us the great gift of salvation. Today’s feast, celebrating the birth of the God-bearer, is that prelude, and the final act is the destined union between the Word and human nature. Today a Virgin is born, suckled and nurtured, and is being made ready to be the God-bearer, the King of all. With justification we should celebrate the mystery of this day, for if we do our gain will be twofold: we shall be led towards the truth, and we shall be led away from a life of slavery to the letter of the law. How can this be? In the same way that the shadow gives way to the presence of the light, grace introduces freedom in place of the letter of the law. Today’s feast stands on the boundary between these sign two dispensations: it joins us to the Truth instead of to signs and figures, and it ushers in the new in place of the old.

Just as Christ is the 2nd Adam, so Mary is the 2nd Eve. By her child-bearing the nature inherited from our first parents is changed, their fault wiped out. In her that sentence passed on Eve was remitted which said, “In sorrow shall you bring forth children,” for Mary brought forth the Lord in joy.

“Eve sorrowed, but Mary exulted; Eve carried weeping in her womb, but Mary carried joy, for Eve brought forth a sinner, but Mary innocence itself. The mother of our race brought punishment into the world, but the Mother of our Lord brought salvation into the world. Eve was the source of sin, Mary the source of merit. Eve by killing was a hindrance, Mary by giving life was a help. Eve wounded, Mary healed. Obedience takes the place of disobedience; faith makes up for faithlessness.” (St. Augustine)
She who was destined to bear the incarnate Son of God has been the inspiration of Christians by her surrender to the will of God. Since Mary uttered those immortal words, ‘Be it unto me according thy word,’ how countless times that prayer has been offered to God by faithful Christians who like Mary have desired nothing else but to do God’s will. She is the exemplar for us all on our pilgrimage. Pray God that this is our continual prayer.