At the First Mass of Midnight
The Epistle. Titus 2. 11.
Dearly beloved: The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ: who gave himself for us: that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works. These things speak; and exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.
Over the course of the past few months we have been subjected to any number of advertisements that seem to urge us to seek a state of excess, all in the “spirit of the season”. It is “a time of giving”, a time to “think of others”; more specifically it is a time to consider what you will purchase for them in order to make their “holiday season” more joyful.
But in his Pastoral Epistle to Titus, St. Paul seems to reject the secular notion that “joyfulness” resides in the reception and possession of material or worldly things. Instead, the Apostle directs our hearts and minds toward those things that are truly worthy of a Christian life; and in doing so, he brings into greater focus the miraculous benefits of God’s Holy Incarnation.
“The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world“. This sentence alone would seem to be a scathing rebuke of the way in which the secular world has perverted the Christmas Season (setting aside for a moment the fact that “the world” engages in this perversion even before Advent has begun!). But remember; St. Paul is writing here long before there were department stores or shopping malls or internet “e-commerce” sites. He is not talking about a “seasonal” proclivity to excess; rather, he is identifying the human tendency to satisfy worldly desires.
“teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world“. (Isaiah 1:16&17) “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow”. In this one sentence St. Paul not only references ancient Scripture, but he also points out all our flaws; he has brought our predisposition for worldly comforts to the surface, and likewise shown us that we, as Christians, must reject them. This fact is so important, particularly at this time when we celebrate the Incarnation of God.
“teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world“. You see, the Miracle of the Incarnation calls us first of all to an attitude of rejection; the rejection of all those desires that prevent us from leading a holy, righteous, and godly life; the rejection of those things that are valued by the secular world.
St. John Chrysostom wrote that “worldly desires“ are those things which do not pass over with us into heaven. Put another way, “worldly desires”, are those things that we could not show to God; things that we might be ashamed to show to God.
In other words, it is only through Christ that our outward life and our inward heart may be changed; so that rather than storing up for ourselves earthly riches, those things that we should be ashamed to show to God, we will instead store up for ourselves heavenly riches; which are those things that are worthy to be shown to God.
It is only through the Miracle of the Incarnation that we can reject our sinful nature so that we may “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world“. It is only through the Birth of Our Lord that we have been “redeemed from all iniquity, and purified as a peculiar people zealous of good work“. Through the Birth of Our Lord, God Almighty has set us aside as a people who are special to Him.
By the Birth of Christ we are redeemed from our sin. By the Birth of Christ, we are reserved as a people specially prepared to fight against the perversions of the secular world. By the Birth of Christ, we are liberated from the past, and enabled to lead others into that perfect life, that Eternal life, that life promised to us by God Himself through the fulfillment of His Covenant. By the Holy Incarnation of God, we are made clean, so that we may be “zealous of good works“, and accomplish the task that Our Lord has set before us; “These things speak; and exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee“.