The First Christmas Sermon

St. John Chrysostom (347-407)

John “Golden Mouth” Chrysostom preached the first known Christmas sermon in AD 386 (the same year that Augustine converted to Christianity — what a year!).  In this case, the first is the best.  It both beautifully written and theologically profound. How I would have loved to have heard him deliver it!  I commend it for your reading in the next couple of days.

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.  The Angels sing.  The Archangels blend their voice in harmony.  The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise.  The Seraphim exalt His glory.  All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven.  He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice.  And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields.  For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God.  This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not.  For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His.  Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny.  Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.  For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth.  The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace!  The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption.  For what reason?  That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see.  For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’.  For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made.  Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator.  For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say!  And how shall I describe this Birth to you?  For this wonder fills me with astonishment.  The Ancient of days has become an infant.  He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger.  And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men.  He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands.  But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life.  He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity.  For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this?  Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh.  He did not become God.  He was God.  Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother.  So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him.  Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever.  Amen.

  • http://www.donheatley.com Don Heatley

    Thanks for sharing that, Tony. I think Pam and I will incorporate some of that in our Communion liturgy tonight. Merry Christmas!

  • Taylor W Burton-Edwards

    It truly doesn’t get much better than this.

    I might note this… the kings to which Chrysostom refers earlier in the sermon were likely not the Magi, but the leaders of the Roman world, who by that time (as of 375) had indeed bowed the knee to Christ, starting with Armenia around 301.

    So this sermon is preached at a time when Christianity was not just legal, but THE official religion of the Empire.

    That takes nothing from its truth, beauty and even simplicity. It may, however, suggest that in a day and time where Christianity is not in such a position, we may find reasons to frame some of our proclamation today in a different way.

  • http://existentialpunk.com Existential Punk

    ‘For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God.’ What exactly does it mean ‘all things yielded in obedience to God’? i don’t get this when there is free will? Also, ‘he willed and had the power’ is something i don’t really see much of from God. i think i am coming to a place of thinking i may be a deist.

    • Konstantine

      He yielded all things to God, can only be interpreted as…. though God was almighty and all powerful that His love for mankind led Him to “give” as a free gift His only begotten Son Christ Jesus as a loving sacrifice, with foreknowledge that Christ was to be ridiculed, spat on, blasphemed even crucified, and that though we are not worthy of such love in our presence through Christ living among us, God the Father willed this as an outpouring of His immense love for us. You may ridicule these early Church fathers, however I can assure you that in speech, foresight, eloquence, love and mercy your comments are merely raindrops in rain compared to their beautiful words based on a life of love in Christ and their fellow neighbour.

  • Rev. Dr. Tom Blair

    Great stuff-

    his Easter sermon is even better-

    but I’ve not seen this before.

    Had I seen it two weeks ago, it would have been part of our Xmas Eve liturgy. Now it will wait for 2010.

  • Dave H

    This is so fantastic. Filled with so many questions, and admissions of incomprehension, jacked up on wonder and awe. I love this. Thank you!

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  • Thomas Davidson

    and if you believe this stuff…….got some great land in Florida ya might be interested in….also a bridge…….and some wonderful stock ,that’s gonna go through the roof…..really , trust me .

    • JPL

      So you come to a website run by a Christian author, at Christmas, and decide to snarkily complain about an ancient Christmas sermon by a Father of the Church.

      Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, surely you must have something better to do with you time? Do you also stop by maternity wards to remind mother’s of how those babies crap and cry and keep you up all night? Or perhaps poke your head in at funerals to remind mourners that those dead folk are simply gone, and they’ll never see them again since heaven is simply a pious myth?

      Why would I trust the insight of someone so unwise and lacking in simple decency? I’d rather be wrong with Tony et. al. than right with the likes of you.

      To sum up, and maintain something of the spirit of the holidays, I’d like to note that Jesus loves you. Everyone else thinks you’re a douche.

  • hane

    would you let me know the original source of this sermon by Chrysostom on Christmas? where can i find it in English or Greek?

  • hane

    Oh! i’ve found it. Don’t mind. THX!

  • http://www.emergingyouth.wordpress.com Dan Haugh

    Tony
    great post. so glad you found that sermon
    To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

  • DB

    Thank you, Tony. Might scratch my Sunday sermon and instead read this one to the congregation. :-)

    Merry Christmas!

  • Jason

    i just read this for my family for our Christmas Eve. Thank you for sharing it!

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  • http://www.tuf.org.za Andrew Lamour

    Thanks for sharing this on your blog. I plan to read it in the morning with my wife to celebrate Christmas as we are on holiday in Prague.

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  • Konstantine

    Merry Christmas and blessings to all my fellow brethren and indeed to the whole world, on this day when Christ the Saviour was born.

    Absolutely beautiful sermon by St. John Chrysostom, one of my favourite saints for his uncompromising love for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and his compassionate, merciful and loving nature for the poor and needy in society.

    He yielded all things to God, can only be interpreted as…. though God was almighty and all powerful that His love for mankind led Him to “give” as a free gift His only begotten Son Christ Jesus as a loving sacrifice, with foreknowledge that Christ was to be ridiculed, spat on, blasphemed even crucified, and that though we are not worthy of such love in our presence through Christ living among us, God the Father willed this as an outpouring of His immense love for us, that unworthy that we are we may through the free gift of grace come to faith in Jesus Christ the Messiah.

    After the apostles the early Church fathers are our best witness to the Church experience and exposition of the Holy Scriptures, their lives and insight are of tremendous value indeed.

    God bless you all in the name of The Holy Trinity


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