A READING FROM A SERMON BY ST MAXIMUS OF TURIN
Even if I were to keep silence, my friends, the season would warn us that the birthday of Christ our Lord is at hand. The year is coming to an end and forestalls the subject of my sermon. The depressing shortness of the days itself testifies to the imminence of some event which will bring about the betterment of a world urgently longing for a brighter sun to dispel its darkness. In spite of fearing that its course may be terminated within a few brief hours, the world still shows signs of hope that its yearly cycle will once more be renewed. And if creation feels this hope, it persuades us also to hope that Christ will come like a new sunrise to shed light on the darkness of our sins, and that the Sun of Justice, in the vigour of his new birth, will dispel the long night of guilt from our hearts. Rather than allow the course of our life to come to an end with such appalling brevity, we are confident that he will extend it by his powerful grace.
Since even the physical world informs us that our Lord’s birthday is at hand, let us follow the earth’s example. I mean that as from Christmas Day onward the earth enjoys lengthening periods of daylight, so we too should imitate it by growing in holiness. And as rich and poor alike share the same light of Christmas, so we should share what we have with the needy and with strangers. From Christmas Day onward the earth begins to throw off its nocturnal gloom, and we in our turn should curtail the darkness of our greed.
So, my brothers, let us array ourselves in clear and shining garments to welcome the Lord’s birthday. The garments I speak of are for the soul, not the body. Our care must be lavished on the precious works of love, not on robes of silk. Beautiful clothes may cover our limbs, but they leave our conscience unadorned. In fact, to parade about with one’s body splendidly attired brings a person even greater disgrace if, in so doing, his heart is inwardly defiled. We must first ennoble our inward desires, then our outward apparel will be beautiful. We must cleanse ourselves of spiritual stains if our bodily raiment is to appear bright and shining. It is useless to wear dazzling clothes while our souls are squalid with sin; a darkened conscience means that the whole body is plunged in gloom.
However, we have in our possession the means of washing away the stains from our conscience. Scripture tells us: give alms, and then everything will be clean for you. How precious an injunction this is! By giving alms with our hands, we are cleansed in our inmost hearts.
St Maximus of Turin, Sermo 61a, 1-3 (CCL 23, 249.250-251), from Word in Season 1