The Letter of Paul to Titus 3: 4 – 7 (Epistle of the First Mass of the Day on Christmas Eve) 24 Dec.2021
“But, when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us – not because of deeds done by us, in righteousness – but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration (Baptism) and renewed in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour – so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life”.
When we think about the miracle of the birth of Jesus, we need to understand that there could have been no other way in which God could have occupied our human state. If Jesus had been the son of Joseph, he would have been no different from us other human beings, and therefore unable to accomplish for us the gift of salvation which God wanted us to receive, by grace, through him.
In his Letter to Titus (his disciple and who became, by tradition, a bishop of the early Church) Saint Paul was emphasizing the fact that salvation is a gift of God – not something we can earn by our adherence to the Law, no matter how diligent we may be – but, rather, a pure gift to us who believe that, through our Baptism into the life of Christ (what Paul calls ‘the washing of regeneration’) we are already redeemed!
Now this is powerful stuff! And then Paul goes on to say that in our Baptism we have been ‘renewed by the Holy Spirit, which God ‘has poured out upon us’ in Baptism – ‘so that we might be justified by his grace, and become heirs of eternal life’.
Can you see now why the conception and birth of Jesus had to be different? And can you see why, when she met the newly-pregnant Mary, her cousin Elizabeth was impelled by the Holy Spirit to greet her with the words: “Why should I be privileged to meet the Mother of my Lord? For blessed are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb, for believing the message given to you by the Angel!” This, of course, was after Gabriel had greeted Mary with the words: “Hail Mary, full of Grace”
Putting these two greetings together gives us the words of the Angelus, with which we greet the Mother of Christ in today’s liturgy of the Church: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”. And then, we follow the custom of the Church down the ages, with a special request; “Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God” – for that is what Mary became.
Did that special conception in Mary’s womb make Mary any different from the human being that God had created? Well, our sisters and brothers of the Orthodox Church have given Mary the title of ‘Theotokos’- a Greek word meaning God-bearer, which makes of her – through her perfect obedience to God’s will in her life – a very special human being, from whose flesh God took upon God’s-self our common humanity. Now if that doesn’t set Mary above the rest of us, I don’t know what else could.
So, in Mary’s sharing of Christ’s divinity, this gives us all – as fellow human beings – the distinct possibility of sharing something of the divinity of Christ ourselves. As Saint Paul himself once said: “Christ in me, the hope of glory”. In our Baptism we have been bonded into Christ and, by the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us in our Baptism – and renewed in us every time we receive the Body of Christ in the Mass – we become, virtually (and it is purely Christ’s virtue and not our own) ‘other Christs’ (alter Christus) in the places where we live and move and have our being.
How we live out that life of Christ which is in us is due to the power of our belief that Jesus really lives in us. This is what the Church is pleased to call ‘The Gift of Faith’ – given to us by the Holy Spirit in our Baptism and in our reception of Christ in the Eucharist. So, as we prepare ourselves today to receive the Gift of our new life in Christ, let us bless the Lord for his ‘unspeakable gift’: “Thanks be to God!”
A HAPPY AND HOLY CHRISTMAS (Fr.Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand)