25 December 2007

Love Freely Given, Freely Received

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached today at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Using the propers for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for the Third Mass at the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.

Let us believe and understand and know that Christ’s birth was not a necessity. Nothing obligated the Father to send His only-begotten Son into our flesh; nothing required the Son to do His Father’s bidding or to knit His divine nature to our human nature; and nothing compelled the Spirit to announce to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would be the Mother of our God.

In the same way, no one requires any man to receive the Word and Grace of God when He came down from heaven. So no one and nothing forced the holy Virgin say, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” And no one makes those for whom Christ comes, and those to whom He came, welcome or embrace Him; or even believe in Him.

All of this then—God’s action and our reaction; the Spirit’s bestowal of the Son, and man’s reception of Him in faith; and the Son’s desire to be our Savior, and our desire to know Him as such—all of this is done in true freedom. None of it is forced or obligatory; all of it is unconstrained. Freely given and freely received; freely bestowed and freely embraced.

This is the way of love. For love never forces itself upon another, nor obligates another to accept what love gives. And love gives hopeful that the gift will be received and appreciated, but with no thought or expectation of getting something in return. So who, then, came into our world? Whose birth do we celebrate? Is it not the birth of Love incarnate, and the appearance of Him who not only loves but is Love Himself? St. Paul certainly thought so. For the holy Apostle said that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared. And how did He appear? As love does: Not by works of righteousness which we have done, nor by obligating us to welcome Him, but according to his mercy he saved us.

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