Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Collect - Christ Mass

The Prayers

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

O GOD, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world with out end. Amen.

Commentary and Meditation

It is often forgotten that there is a sense in which we are NOT God's children until we become Christians, whether as baptised infants or converted adults. Until we are "born again" (John 3.3-8), that is, re-generated. There is also a sense in which all human beings are children of God, "God's offspring" as St Paul said, citing a heathen writer (Acts 17.28-29). What's the difference?

Well, to put it bluntly, humanity left home and repudiated its Divine Parent, rupturing the relationship. Nothing we have done could ever change the fact that God is our Creator-Father. Nor the fact that not only do we owe our origin to His act but our essential nature to a reflection of His Being. We are and remain "in his image". But the Father-Child relationship is not just about origin or general similarity. To be an ongoing experiential reality it must involve shared life and love. It is this that we abandoned.

Before the Fall, for a short time Man enjoyed the gift of supernatural life and so was enabled to live in a way that would not have been possible on the basis of unaided human nature. You see, we were never meant to "function" properly or fully without this super-added grace. We were designed from the beginning to be more than natural (in the scientific sense). Indeed, we were designed to connect Nature and SuperNature and to constantly relate to God in such a way that our internal relationships between soul and body as well as our relationships with other humans and other creatures were perfectly ordered. At the Fall this gift was thrown away and, in the process, even that aspect of "mere" human nature that reflected divine nature was also damaged and disordered. We both lost the grace and defiled what was left.

This leaves unregenerate human beings, at least if they have actualised their Fallen-ness in actual sin after the age of reason, as "children of wrath" (Eph. 2.3). This rather terrifying phrase confronts us with both God's hatred of evil and its presence within humanity. And the evil of what Christians call "the old man" (Eph. 4.22) is not simply there as an ugly and unfortunate but passive characteristic of Fallen nature; no, it is active, choosing and chosen. Sin is self-reinforcing.

But, thanks be to God, for He has broken in on this cycle of ever-increasing hopelessness with his love. He takes us back into His arms with forgiving mercy and simultaneously restores to us as an inner and active reality the sharing of divine life that we had lost. This is the "adoption and grace" and regeneration and renewal spoken of in the first Collect.

It is also true that we ask for "daily" strengthening of this gift of salvation in the Collect. One reason we need to do this is that while our regeneration has given us a new identity, a new relationship and the beginnings of a new nature, the "old man" has not been annihilated utterly yet. Concupiscence, as it is also called, remains to be fought and conquered. The difference is that as Christians we can fight concupiscence from an inherently victorious vantage point. We stand in Christ, anchored on Calvary, the power of his Death and Resurrection within us. Let us have faith in this renewal, this power, this victory. We are born again. We are "sons in the Son". Let this truth sink into you and quicken your Christmas joy. The Child lives. He is born within.

Fr Matthew Kirby

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