Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the Christmas Epistle Reading

At Midnight Christmas Mass a passage from Titus was read (Titus 2:11-14). I found it interesting because of its mirror-like structure.

The grace of God our Savior has appeared to all man, instructing us that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works. These things speak, and exhort, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

"God our Savior" mirrors "Christ Jesus our Lord." Like bookends, these two phrases state and echo the connection between God and man. These phrases communicate an essential aspect of the Judao-Christian God who, unlike the deities of other religions, has a deep love for His creation. He is not just 'God' or 'Jesus Christ'. He is 'our Savior' and 'our Lord'. God's deep love is shown in His dedication to His creation, which is shown most in the life Jesus (and the birth of Jesus is a most important moment in that life) and which is also shown in the heart of this passage.

"instructing us" mirrors "these things speak, and exhort." What Jesus has told us, we are to tell others. The Good News was fist preached to the Jews, but it is not supposed to stop there. So St. Paul tells Titus what he has learned, that Titus might tell others, and then what st. Paul wrote may edify us to communicate to still more people. Like all good things, the Good News is open and growing.

"denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world" mirrors "all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works". The first speaks of us actively leading virtuous lives. The second speaks of us being made clean, that is, passively receiving what is being done to us. The first is in the context of obeying what Christ has instructed us and in hope of His second coming. The second is in the context of being redeemed. As the second one explains, Jesus has cleaned us of our sins that we may be acceptable to Him by pursuing good works. The first exhorts us to live up to our redemption: to do what Christ has given us the grace to do. For this purpose Christ came to earth and was born amongst us.

"looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory" mirrors "who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us". Here it is as if we are living amongst mirrors. For we are to look forward to the future, but the means by which we look to the future is nothing else than the past.

"God and our Savior Jesus Christ" calls us back to the beginning and end of this passage. And as God is the center of all the Universe, so His name lies at the center of this passage. In these few words we find a small echo of the incarnation. For first God revealed Himself as a single being, 'God' or 'Yahweh'. Then the Prophets proclaimed to the Jews the coming of a Savior. Next, the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to have a son and name Him Jesus. Finally, Jesus' followers recognized that He was the promised one, that He was the Christ.

This passage is like concentric circles. In the heart of this passage we find God. Next outside of that we find the mission of Christ's life accomplished and our own lives in the context of His redemption. Then outside of that we see the essence of Jesus' mission and how we are to live according to all that He has done for us, actively leading lives in accord with all He has done for us. Then outside of that we discover that as Christ has taught us, so we are to teach others. The Passion does not stop with the Jews or with the first converts but extends to all peoples of all countries and all ages. And finally we find again the name of God.

We see in the first instance of God's name that 'Savior' is connected with 'God'. In the second instance, 'Lord' is connected with 'Christ Jesus'. This shows a melding of two views of God. He is not just our eternal ruler and Lord, nor is He just a Savior who turned up once long ago. Rather, both roles are of the same Almighty Creator.

Although this passage doesn't seem very appropriate for Christmas, it in fact leads us deeply into the heart of what Christmas means.
Surrounded by the name of God which reveals who He is, this passage leads us from
the proclamation of the Good News (as the angels sang to the shepherds)
to the essence of why Christ was born on Christmas day- to redeem us that we may live virtuously and reach heaven to be with Him.
We see Christmas in the context of the entire plan for the redemption of mankind.

From there this passage leads us to Calvary where Christ gave Himself to redeem us; and because of our redemption, we live in the hope of our redeemer's promised return.
Now w
e see our lives and those of all mankind in the context of our redemption.
And at the heart we again find the name of God,
as it gradually reveals more and more of who He is.