DISCOURSES FOR ADVENT
Taken from THE INCARNATION, BIRTH AND INFANCY OF JESUS CHRIST
by St. Alphonsus Liguori
THE REDEMPTORIST FATHERS
With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur
The Eternal Word Is Made Man
Ignum veni mittere in terram; et quid volo, nisi ut accendatur?
“I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I but that it be kindled?”—Luke, 12:49
THE Jews solemnized a day called by them dies ignis, [2 Mach. 1:18] the day of fire, in memory of the fire with which Nehemias consumed the sacrifice, upon his return with his countrymen from the captivity of Babylon. Even so, and indeed with more reason, should Christmas Day be called the day of fire, on which a God came as a little child to cast the fire of love into the hearts of men.
I came to cast fire on the earth: so spoke Jesus Christ; and truly so it was. Before the coming of the Messias, who loved God upon earth? Hardly was He known in a nook of the world, that is, in Judea; and even there how very few loved Him when He came! As to the rest of the world, some worshipped the sun, some the brutes, some the very stones, and others again even viler creatures still. But after the coming of Jesus Christ, the name of God became everywhere known, and was loved by many. After the Redeemer was born, God was more loved by men in a few years than He had before been in the lapse of four thousand years, since the creation of man.
THE VIRGIN MARY AND JESUS It is a custom with many Christians to anticipate the arrival of Christmas a considerable time beforehand by fitting up in their homes a crib to represent the birth of Jesus Christ; but few there are who think of preparing their hearts, in order that the Infant Jesus may be born in them, and there find His repose. Among these few, however, we would be reckoned, in order that we too may be made worthy to burn with that happy flame which gives contentment to souls on this earth, and bliss in Heaven.
Let us consider on this first day how the Eternal Word had no other end in becoming man than to inflame us with His Divine love. Let us ask light of Jesus Christ and of His most holy Mother, and so let us begin.
Adam, our first parent, sins; ungrateful for the great benefits conferred on him, he rebels against God, by a violation of the precept given him not to eat of the forbidden fruit. On this account God is obliged to drive him out of the earthly paradise in this world, and in the world to come to deprive not only Adam, but all the descendants of this rebellious creature, of the heavenly and everlasting paradise which He had prepared for them after this mortal life.
Behold, then, all mankind together condemned to a life of pain and misery, and forever shut out from Heaven. But hearken to God, Who, as Isaias tells us in his fifty-second chapter, would seem, after our manner of understanding, to give vent to His affliction in lamentations and wailings: And now what have I here, saith the Lord, for My people is taken away gratis. [53:5] “And now,” says God, “what delight have I left in Heaven, now that I have lost men, who were my delight?” My delights were to be with the children of men. [Prov. 8:31] But how is this, O Lord? Thou hast in Heaven so many Seraphim, so many Angels; and canst Thou thus take to heart having lost men? Indeed, what need hast Thou of Angels or of men to fill up the sum of Thy happiness? Thou hast always been, and Thou art in Thyself, most happy; what can ever be wanting to Thy bliss, which is infinite? “That is all true,” says God; “but” (and these are the words of Cardinal Hugo on the above text of Isaias)—“but, losing man, I deem that I have nothing; I consider that I have lost all, since my delight was to be with men; and now these men I have lost, and, poor hapless creatures, they are doomed to live forever far away from me.”
But how can the Lord call men His delight? Yes, indeed, writes St. Thomas, God loves man just as if man were His god, and as if without man He could not be happy; as if man were the god of God Himself, and without him he could not be happy. St. Gregory of Nazianzen adds, moreover, that God, for the love He bears to men, seems beside Himself: “We are bold to say it, God is out of Himself by reason of His immense love;'” so runs the proverb, “Love puts the lover beside himself.”
“But no,” then said the Lord, “I will not lose man; straightway let there be found a Redeemer Who may satisfy My justice in behalf of man, and so rescue him from the hands of his enemies and from the eternal death due to him.”
And here St. Bernard, in his contemplations on this subject, imagines a struggle to ensue between the justice and the mercy of God. Justice says:
“I no longer exist if Adam be not punished; I perish if Adam die not.” Mercy, on the other hand, says: “I am lost if man be not pardoned; I perish if he does not obtain forgiveness.” In this contest the Lord decides, that in order to deliver man, who was guilty of death, some innocent one must die: “Let one die Who is no debtor to death.”
On earth, there was not one innocent. “Since, therefore,” says the Eternal Father, “amongst men there is none who can satisfy My justice, let him come forward who will go to redeem man.” The Angels, the Cherubim, the Seraphim, all are silent, not one replies; one voice alone is heard, that of the Eternal Word Who says, Lo, here I am; send Me. [Is. 6:8] “Father,” says the Only-begotten Son, “Thy majesty being infinite, and having been injured by man, cannot be fittingly satisfied by an Angel, who is purely a creature; and though Thou mightest the satisfaction of an Angel, reflect that, in spite of so great benefits, bestowed on man, in spite of so many promises and threats, We have not yet been able to gain his love, because he is not yet aware of the love We bear him. If We would oblige him without fail to love Us, what better occasion can We find that that, in order to redeem him, I, Thy Son, should go upon earth, should there assume human flesh, and pay by my death the penalty due him. In this manner Thy justice is fully satisfied, and at the same time man is thoroughly convinced of Our love!” “but think,” answered the Heavenly Father—“think, O My Son, that in taking upon Thyself the burden of man’s satisfaction, Thou wilt have to lead a life full of sufferings!” “No matter,” replied the Son: “Lo, here I am, send Me.” “Think that Thou wilt have to be born in a cave, the shelter of the beasts of the field; thence Thou must flee into Egypt whilst and infant, to escape the hands of those very men who, even from Thy tenderest infancy, will seek to take away Thy life.” “It matters not: Lo, here I am, send Me.” “Think that, on Thy return to Palestine, Thou shalt lead a life most arduous, most despicable, passing Thy days as a simple boy in a carpenter’s shop.” “It matters not: Lo, here I am, send Me.” “Think that when Thou goest forth to preach and manifest Thyself. Thou wilt have, indeed, a few, to follow Thee; the greater part will despise Thee and call Thee impostor, magician, fool, Samaritan; and, finally, they will persecute Thee to such a pass that they will make Thee die shamefully on a gibbet by dint of torments.” “No matter: Lo, here I am, send Me.”