Gregory the Great (540-604 AD), the son of a Roman senator and one time Prefect of Rome, served as the Bishop of Rome from 590 to 604 AD, where he instigated what would become known as the Gregorian/Augustinian Mission (596 AD) to Briton led by Augustine of Canterbury, the first large-scale attempt to convert the Anglo-Saxons from their Paganism to the light of Christianity, and the catholic faith. A reformer of Worship, his effect on Liturgical Worship is still seen today even beyond the Gregorian chant, which bears his name.
Because by the Divine Bounty we are on this day thrice to celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Liturgy, we cannot therefore speak at length on the Gospel lesson. But the Birth of Our Redeemer Himself demands of us that we say something for the occasion, however briefly.
Why was it that at the time when the Lord was to be born, the whole world was enrolled, unless that it so might openly be declared, that He had appeared in the flesh Who would enroll His elect for all eternity? Against which is the sentence spoken by the prophet concerning the wicked: ‘Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; and with the just let them not be written.’ (Ps. 68:29)
Also was he, fittingly, born in Bethlehem; since Bethlehem is interpreted as the House of Bread. For this is He Who says: ‘I am the Living Bread, which came down from Heaven.‘
The place therefore in which the Lord was born was formerly called the House of Bread, because there it was to be that He would appear in future times, in the substance of our flesh, who would fill the hearts of the faithful with inward abundance.
And He was born, not in the house of His parents, but upon a journey that He might truly show, that because of the humanity He had taken to Himself, He was born as it were among strangers. Strange, I say, not to His Power, but to His Nature. For of His Power it is written.: He came into His own. In His own Nature He was born before all time; in ours He came to us in time. To Him therefore Who while remaining Eternal hath appeared in time, strange must the place be where He has descended.
And because the prophet says: ‘All flesh is grass‘ (Isa. 40:6), becoming man He has changed this our grass into wheat Who has declared of Himself: ‘Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone.’ (Jn 12:24).
Hence when he was born He was laid in a manger so that He might nourish with the Wheat of His flesh the beasts that He sanctifies, that is, all the faithful so that they may not be left hungry for the food of eternal knowledge.
And what does it mean that an angel appears to the watching shepherds, and that the Brightness of God shone round about them, if not mystically signifying that they, more than others, shall merit the vision of heavenly things, who have learned to rule carefully over their faithful flocks? For while they are devoutly keeping watch over them, the divine favor shines abundantly upon them.
The Angel announces that a King is born, and the choirs of angels unite their voice with his and rejoicing all together they sing: ‘Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.’
Before the Redeemer was born in the flesh, there was discord between us and the angels, from whose brightness and holy perfection we stood afar, in punishment first of original sin, and then because of our daily offenses. Because through sin we had become strangers to God, the angels as God’s subjects cut us off from their fellowship. But since we have now acknowledged our King, the angels receive us as fellow citizens.
Because the King of heaven has taken unto Himself the flesh of our earth, the angels from their heavenly heights no longer look down upon our infirmity. Now they are at peace with us, putting away the remembrance of the ancient discord; now they honor us as friends, whom before they beheld weak and despised below them.
Hence was it that both Lot and Joshua adored the angels (Gen. 19:1; Jos. 5:15), and were not forbidden to adore. But when John, in his Apocalypse, wished to adore the angel, this same angel forbade him to adore, saying: ‘See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren.‘ (Rev. 22:9)
What is the significance of this, that before the coming of the Redeemer angels were adored by men, and the angels were silent; and after, they turned away from being adored; unless that our nature which they before despised, they see now is raised above themselves, and fear exceedingly to see it prostrated before them? Nor dared they now look down on that as beneath them, which they venerate as far above them, in the King of Heaven. Nor do they refuse to accept us as equals, who now adore God made man.
Let us then be careful, dearest Brethren, that no uncleanness shall defile us, who, in the divine foreknowledge, are destined to be the subjects of God’s heavenly Kingdom, and the equal of His angels.
Let us prove our worthiness by the manner of our lives. Let no sensuality soil us, no evil purpose come to accuse us; let malice not devour your hearts, nor pride exalt it, nor the desire of worldly gain blow it about in every direction, nor anger inflame it. For men are called to be as Gods.
Defend then the honor of God within you, O Man, against these vices, since it was because of you that God became man, who liveth and reigneth forever. Amen.