O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: grant that as we joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come again to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
We are left in no doubt that, though this Collect comes at the Vigil Mass for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas now has come. The yearly remembrance of the birth of the Christ for whom we have so longed over the past days and weeks, has arrived. The one whom we joyfully receive as our Redeemer is the Word made Flesh; the Second Person of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, who has condescended to us, to commingle the supernatural with the natural, our humanity with his divinity. The “radiant dawn” for which we have prayed has now come to shed its light upon us, to scatter the darkness of this fallen world, and to bring his warmth and health and life.
This is the cause of our joy; that which makes us glad as we come once more to this familiar yet mystical feast. We know well the “atmosphere” of Christmas, do we not? The music, the readings, and even the prayers of this great celebration are as well known to us as the decorations, the mince pies, and mulled wine. All of them point us to something that is comforting. We arrive at the feast of the Lord’s incarnation, and we slump into its yearly remembrance, as if arriving at the family home which, perhaps, we will once more visit for these coming days. It is instantly comforting and reassuring; the place we desire to be.
And yet each time we come to these familiar surroundings, we do so with fresh eyes. We come more finely attuned to the mystery of the Lord’s coming-amongst-us, both through the rigours of the Advent season now behind us, and by a deeper knowledge of what this miracle means—not in some purely intellectual, abstract sense, but what it means to the very life of each of us, configured as we are to the divine person who has now come into our presence. We come, then, knowing that as we edge just a little closer to our final Christmas on earth, the joy and celebration of knowing the Christ in the manger must also spur us on to preparing for the Christ who will come again in glory, who shall come again to be our Judge.
Such a thought might seem cold and stark; out of keeping with the graciousness and peacefulness of the Christmas scene. Surely our thoughts need not turn to the final judgement when, barely a few moments old, the infant Lord still lies resting in the arms of his Blessed Mother? Yet it is this happy vision that causes such thoughts, not simply because we see in the wood of the manger that which will become the wood of the cross, nor simply because we see in the embrace of his Mother the embrace that will be seen once more in the pieta of Good Friday, but because it is exactly the quiet bliss, the peace, the pure and unfettered joy of the babe in the cradle, that is itself a foretaste of the vision of the blessed that, in his eternal kingdom and by his birth, he extends to us. We see here a scene that is familiar—our home; the place we desire to be, not just now but throughout all ages, world without end.
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