First Sunday after Christmas
I will exalt you, O Lord God, my King
As is your Name, O Lord, so be your praises
O Lord, who is like you?
He who is in God’s likeness, which is unseen
O Lord of all, while you are in the likeness of God, you assumed the likeness of a servant in your love, and you neither robbed your Divinity nor defrauded your humanity. Rather, in both natures you are truly one Son, undivided. Indeed, above you exist without a mother, from the Father; and below, without a father, from a mother. Thus have the prophets anticipated and predicted; thus also have the apostles preached; and thus have the Fathers taught in the Church: so that, by their pleading and in their faith, you may protect us, O God, and have mercy on us.
Theology as an intellectual discipline has failed if it ever becomes entirely abstract. That is, its goal is not only, like other sciences, knowledge of its object of study but also, and most importantly, friendship with God. Studying the faith, the Scriptures, the tradition of the Church, the Fathers, the sacred liturgy, cannot be simply ways to gather data or to improve our ideas about God; they must first and foremost be ways for us to encounter God in our hearts and minds.
Of course, as a way to encounter God, theology is quite fit for its job. Man is set apart from other earthly creatures by his mind, and he must, in some way or another, use his mind to its fullest capacity in his search for meaning, in his encounter with his Creator. In other words, in order to know God, it helps very much to know about God.
For this reason, Advent and the prayers we have examined have been suitable preparations for the physical, face-to-face encounter we have with God in the nativity scene where Christ was born. All four Basilica Hymns from Advent have been beautiful reflections on the reality of what took place in Bethlehem so long ago. But all of them have known their place, for the actual encounter has, liturgically, not yet happened; “before” Christ is born in the liturgical year, none of the four hymns have addressed him. That honor is reserved for the hymn we examine now:
O Lord of all, while you are in the likeness of God, you assumed the likeness of a servant in your love, and you neither robbed your Divinity nor defrauded your humanity.
Again theologically, the whole issue is how this child is both God and man; but a clarification of terminology and definition of doctrine are but a first step, albeit a necessary one, to a true life of grace and prayer. In other words, if Christ is our salvation and the Mediator between God and man, if it is in knowing him that we know the Father and tread the path to heaven, it is of the highest importance that we know who he is. This is why heresy is such an evil thing; false teaching about who Christ is was condemned so dramatically by the Church because we cannot pray to Christ if we have a false idea of who he is, if we are worshiping an idol we have made in our minds rather than the one true living God.
Thus it is appropriate that this first “breakthrough” between the ideas of Advent and the direct prayer of the Christmas season return again, after its address, to the Mystery if Christ’s Divine and Human identity:
Rather, in both natures you are truly one Son, undivided. Indeed, above you exist without a mother, from the Father; and below, without a father, from a mother.
A Personal Relationship
A curious division has taken place in the last few centuries between the individual and society. It has become believable somehow that a person can exist apart from others, or that he has the right to do so. This unnatural view on man, of whom God said that “it is not good for him to be alone,” has seeped even into Christian spirituality. By some acrobatic feat of the imagination, it has become plausible to believe that one can worship Christ in isolation from the rest of the Church – meaning not that one can “go into his room” and pray to God as an individual member of the Church, but that Christ can be encountered and even defined apart from or even against the entire society to whom he was revealed in the beginning, which is the Church. Thus it is said that no association with the Body of Christ is necessary, but ONLY a “personal relationship” with him, as if one can exist without the other.
That Christ was prepared for by an entire nation is forgotten; that he was born to a woman of this nation; that he preached not to one individual but to many; that he was revealed as risen to a group; that this group preached his Lordship as a unified whole; that the Scriptures are the result of this preaching; that the Faith has always been the Faith of the Body of Christ and not of one member; all of these realities have been pushed aside without justification.
Even if one has, unnaturally, made himself an island apart from others, Christ is not an island. He is connected to every member of his Body, and every member of his Body is connected to him and to every other member:
Thus have the prophets anticipated and predicted; thus also have the apostles preached; and thus have the Fathers taught in the Church: so that, by their pleading and in their faith, you may protect us, O God, and have mercy on us.