A READING FROM A SERMON BY ST BERNARD
If we celebrate the Lord’s advent with grateful hearts we shall be doing no more than our duty, for not only did he come to us but he came for our sake, having no need of anything we can give. Moreover the very generosity with which he is pleased to treat us clearly shows up the measure of our need, for just as the danger of an illness can be inferred from the cost of medicine, so the number of infirmities is indicated by the diverse remedies required. Why should a variety of graces be dispensed, if we did not suffer multiple distress?
It is certainly difficult within the compass of one sermon to detail all the needs we experience, but at present three spring to mind; they are the principal ones and common to us all. There is no one to be found among us who will not on occasion feel the need for counsel, for strengthening, and for protection. Unquestionably, a threefold wretchedness is innate in human nature. All of us who dwell in the region of the shadow of death, in weakness of body and exposed to temptation, will agree, if we consider the matter carefully, that we labour wretchedly under this triple handicap. We are easily led astray, feeble in our striving and frail when it comes to resistance. If we wish to distinguish between good and evil we are deceived; if we attempt to do good we fai1; if we try to resist evil we are overthrown and defeated.
The coming of a saviour was necessary, then; the presence of Christ is indispensable for men harassed like this. O that he may so come to us in his gracious bounty that dwelling in us through faith he may enlighten our blindness, abiding with us and taking the field for us protect and guard our frailty! If he is in us who can ever deceive us? If he is with us, what can we still find too hard in him who strengthens us? If he is for us, who is against us? He is a trusty counsellor incapable of deceiving or being deceived, a mighty ally who does not grow weary, an effective champion who will swiftly crush Satan under our feet and shatter all his stratagems.
Christ is the Wisdom of God, so it is simple for him to instruct the ignorant; he is the Power of God, so it is easy for him to restore those who sin and to rescue those in peril. Let us have recourse to this great teacher in all our uncertainties, invoke this ready helper in all our labour, and commit our souls to this trusty defender in all our struggles. He came into the world for this very purpose, so that by living among us, with us and for us, he might enlighten our darkness, alleviate our toil, and ward off the dangers that threaten us.
St Bernard, Sermo 7 de adventu Domini (PL 183, 54-56), from Word in Season 1