The Second Sunday after Christmas
Autustine on Psalm LXXXV
Christmas 2 Home
ALMIGHTY God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Isaiah lxi. 1, Psalms LXXXV, LXXXVII | XC, XCI & St. Matthew ii. 19
Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel
Isaiah lxi. 1THE Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
Psalms LXXXV, LXXXVII | XC, XCI
St. Matthew ii. 19WHEN Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
1. ...Its title is, "A Psalm for the end, to the sons of Core."  Let us understand no other end than that of which the Apostle speaks: for, "Christ is the end of the law."  Therefore when at the head of the title of the Psalm he placed the words, "for the end," he directed our heart to Christ. If we fix our gaze on Him, we shall not stray: for He is Himself the Truth unto which we are eager to arrive, and He Himself the Way  by which we run....
2. The Prophet singeth to Him of the future, and useth words as it were of past time: he speaks of things future as if already done, because with God that which is future has already taken place...."Lord, Thou hast been favourable unto Thy land" (ver. 1); as if He had already done so. "Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob." His ancient people of Jacob, the people of Israel, born of Abraham's seed, in the promise to become one day the heir of God. That was indeed a real people, to whom the Old Testament was given; but in the Old Testament the New was figured: that was the figure, this the truth expressed. In that figure, by a kind of foretelling of the future, there was given to that people a certain land of promise, in a region where the people of the Jews abode; where also is the city of Jerusalem, whose name we have all heard of. When this people had received possession of this land, they suffered many troubles from their neighbouring enemies who surrounded them: and when they sinned against their God, they were given into captivity, not for destruction, but for discipline; their Father not condemning, but scourging them. And after being seized on, they were set free, and many times were both made captives, and set free; and they are now in captivity, and that for a great sin, even because they crucified their Lord. What then are we to understand them to mean by the words, "Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob"?...This Psalm hath prophesied in song. "Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob." To whom did it speak? To Christ; for it said, "for the end, for the sons of Core:" for He hath turned away the captivity of Jacob. Hear Paul himself confessing: "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" He asked who it should be, and straightway it occurred to him, "The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord."  Of this grace of God the Prophet speaketh to our Lord Jesus Christ, "Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob." Attend to the captivity of Jacob, attend, and see that it is this: Thou hast turned away our captivity, not by setting us free from the barbarians, with whom we had not met, but by setting us free from bad works, from our sins, by which Satan held sway over us. For if any one has been set free from his sins, the prince of sinners hath not whence he may hold sway over him.
3. For how did He turn away the captivity of Jacob? See, how that that setting free is spiritual, see how that it is done inwardly. "Thou hast forgiven," he saith, "the iniquity of Thy people: Thou hast covered all their sins" (ver. 2). Behold how He hath turned away their captivity, in that He hath remitted iniquity: iniquity held them captive; thy iniquity forgiven, thou art freed. Confess therefore that thou art in captivity, that thou mayest be worthy to be freed: for he that knoweth not of his enemy, how can he invoke the liberator? "Thou hast covered all their sins." What is, "Thou hast covered"? So as not to see them. How didst Thou not see them? So as not to take vengeance on them. Thou wast unwilling to see our sins: and therefore sawest Thou them not, because Thou wouldest not see them: "Thou hast covered all their sins." "Thou hast appeased all Thy anger: Thou hast turned Thyself from Thy wrathful indignation" (ver. 3).
4. And as these things are said of the future, though the sound of the words is past, it follows: "Turn us, O God of our salvation" (ver. 4). That which he had just related as if it were done, how prayeth he that it may be done, except because he wished to show that he had spoken as if of the past in prophecy? But that it was not yet done which he had said was done he showeth by this, that he prayeth that it may be done: "Turn us, O God of our salvation, and turn away Thine anger from us." Didst thou not say before: "Thou hast appeased all Thy anger, Thou has turned Thyself from Thy wrathful indignation"? How then now sayest thou, "And turn away Thine anger from us"? The Prophet answereth: These things I speak of as done, because I see them about to be done: but because they are not yet done, I pray that they may come, which I have already seen.
5. "Be not angry with us for ever" (ver. 5). For by the anger of God we are subject to death, and by the anger of God we eat bread on this earth in want, and in the sweat of our face.  This was Adam's sentence when he sinned: and that Adam was every one of us, for "in Adam all die;"  the sentence passed on him hath taken effect after him on us. For we were not yet ourselves, but we were in Adam: therefore whatever happened to Adam himself took effect on us also, so that we should die: for we all were in him....So far as this the sin of thy father hurts thee not, if thou hast changed thyself, even as it would not hurt thy father if he had changed himself. But that which our stock hath received unto its subjection to death, it hath derived from Adam. What hath it so derived? That frailty of the flesh, this torture of pains, this house of poverty, this chain of death, and snares of temptations; all these things we carry about in this flesh; and this is the anger of God, because it is the vengeance of God. But because it was so to be, that we should be regenerated, and by believing should be made new, and all that mortality was to be removed in our resurrection, and the whole man was to be restored in newness; "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive;"  seeing this the Prophet saith, "Be not angry with us for ever, nor stretch out Thy wrath from one generation to another." The first generation was mortal by Thy wrath: the second generation shall be immortal by Thy mercy....
6. "O God, Thou shalt turn us again, and make us alive" (ver. 6). Not as if we ourselves of our own accord, without Thy mercy, turn unto Thee, and then Thou shalt make us alive: but so that not only our being made alive is from Thee, but our very conversion, that we may be made alive. "And Thy people shall rejoice in Thee." To their own evil they shall rejoice in themselves: to their own good they shall rejoice in Thee. For when they wished to have joy of themselves, they found in themselves woe: but now because God is all our joy, he that will rejoice securely, let him rejoice in Him who cannot perish. For why, my brethren, will ye rejoice in silver? Either thy silver perisheth, or thou: and no one knows which first: yet this is certain, that both shall perish; which first, is uncertain. For neither can man remain here always, nor can silver remain here always: so too gold, so garments, so houses, so money, so broad lands, so, lastly, this light itself. Be not thou willing then to rejoice in these: but rejoice in that light which hath no setting: rejoice in that dawn which no yesterday precedes, which no to-morrow follows. What light is that? "I," saith He, "am the Light of the world."  He who saith unto thee, "I am the Light of the world," calls thee to Himself. When He calls thee, He converts thee: when He converts thee, He healeth thee: when He hath healed thee, thou shalt see thy Converter, unto whom it is said, "Show us Thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us Thy salvation" (ver. 7): Thy salvation, that is, Thy Christ.  Happy is he unto whom God showeth His mercy. He it is who cannot indulge in pride, unto whom God showeth His mercy. For by showing him His salvation He persuadeth him that whatever good man has, he hath not but from Him who is all our good. And when a man has seen that whatever good he has he hath not from himself, but from his God; he sees that everything which is praised in him is of the mercy of God, not of his own deserving; and seeing this, he is not proud; not being proud, he is not lifted up; not lifting himself up, he falleth not; not falling, he standeth; standing, he clingeth fast; clinging fast, he abideth; abiding, he enjoyeth, and rejoiceth in the Lord his God. He who made him shall be unto him a delight: and his delight no one spoileth, no one interrupteth, no one taketh away....Therefore, what saith John in his Epistle? "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be."  Who would not rejoice, if suddenly while he was wandering abroad, ignorant of his descent, suffering want, and in a state of misery and toil, it were announced, Thou art the son of a senator: thy father enjoys an ample patrimony on your family estate; I bid thee return to thy father: how would he rejoice, if this were said to him by some one whose promise he could trust? One whom we can trust, an Apostle of Christ, hath come and said to us, Ye have a father, ye have a country, ye have an inheritance. Who is that father? "Beloved, we are the sons of God."  ...Therefore He  promised us to show Himself unto us. Think, my brethren, what His beauty is. All those beautiful things which ye see, which ye love, He made. If these are beautiful, what is He Himself? If these are great, how great is He? Therefore from these things which we love here, let us the more long for Him: and despising these things, let us love Him: that by that very love we may by faith purify our hearts, and His vision, when it cometh, may find our heart purified. The light which shall be shown unto us ought to find us whole: this is the work of faith now. This is what we have spoken here: "And grant us Thy salvation:" grant us Thy Christ, that we may know Thy Christ, see Thy Christ; not as the Jews saw Him and crucified Him, but as the Angels see Him, and rejoice.
7. "I will hearken" (ver. 8). The Prophet spoke: God spoke within in him, and the world made a noise without. Therefore, retiring for a little from the noise of the world, and turning himself back upon himself, and from himself upon Him whose voice he heard within; sealing up his ears, as it were, against the tumultuous disquietude of this life, and against the soul weighed down by the corruptible body, and against the imagination, that through the earthly tabernacle pressing down,  thinketh on many things,  he saith, "I will hearken what the Lord God speaketh in me;" and he heard, what? "For He shall speak peace unto His people." The voice of Christ, then, the voice of God, is peace: it calleth unto peace. Ho! it saith, whosoever are not yet in peace, love ye peace: for what can ye find better from Me than peace? What is peace? Where there is no war. What is this, where there is no war? Where there is no contradiction, where there is no resistance, nothing to oppose. Consider if we are yet there: consider if there is not now a conflict with the devil, if all the saints and faithful ones wrestle not with the prince of demons. And how do they wrestle with him whom they see not? They wrestle with their own desires, by which he suggests unto them sins: and by not consenting to what he suggests, though they are not conquered, yet they fight. Therefore there is not yet peace where there is fighting....Whatever we provide for our refreshment, there again we find weariness. Art thou hungry? one asks thee: thou answerest, I am. He places food before thee for thy refreshment; continue thou to use it, for thou hadst need of it; yet in continuing that which thou needest for refreshment, therein findest thou weariness. By long sitting thou wast tired; thou risest and refreshest thyself by walking; continue that relief, and by much walking thou art wearied; again thou wouldest sit down. Find me anything by which thou art refreshed, wherein if thou continue thou dost not again become weary. What peace then is that which men have here, opposed by so many troubles, desires, wants, wearinesses? This is no true, no perfect peace. What will be perfect peace? "This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."  ...Persevere in eating much; this itself will kill thee: persevere in fasting much, by this thou wilt die: sit continually, being resolved not to rise up, by this thou wilt die: be always walking so as never to take rest, by this thou wilt die; watch continually, taking no sleep, by this thou wilt die; sleep continually, never watching, thus too thou wilt die. When therefore death shall be swallowed up in victory, these things shall no longer be: there will be full and eternal peace. We shall be in a City, of which, brethren, when I speak I find it hard to leave off, especially when offences wax common. Who would not long for that City whence no friend goeth out, whither no enemy entereth,  where is no tempter, no seditious person, no one dividing God's people, no one wearying the Church in the service of the devil; since the prince himself of all such is cast into eternal fire, and with him those who consent unto him, and who have no will to retire from him? There shall be peace made pure in the sons of God, all loving one another, seeing one another full of God, since God shall be all in all.  We shall have God as our common object of vision, God as our common possession, God as our common peace. For whatever there is which He now giveth unto us, He Himself shall be unto us instead of His gifts; this will be full and perfect peace. This He speaketh unto His people: this it was which he would hearken unto who said, "I will hearken what the Lord God will say unto me: for He shall speak peace unto His people, and to His saints, and unto those who turn their hearts unto Him." Lo, my brethren, do ye wish that unto you should belong that peace which God uttereth? Turn your heart unto Him: not unto me, or unto that one, or unto any man. For whatever man would turn unto himself the hearts of men, he falleth with them. Which is better, that thou fall with him unto whom thou turnest thyself, or that thou stand with Him with whom thou turnest thyself? Our joy, our peace, our rest, the end of all troubles, is none but God: blessed are "they that turn their hearts unto Him."
8. "Nevertheless, His salvation is nigh them that fear Him" (ver. 9). There were some even then who feared Him in the Jewish people. Everywhere throughout the earth idols were worshipped: devils were feared, not God: in that nation God was feared. But why was He feared? In the Old Testament He was feared, lest He should give them up to captivity, lest He should take away their land from them, lest He should destroy their vines with hail, lest He should make their wives barren, lest He should take away their children from them. For these carnal promises of God captivated their minds, which as yet were of small growth, and for these things God was feared: but He was near unto them who even for these things feared Him. The Pagan prayed for land to the devil: the Jew prayed for land to God: it was the same thing which they prayed for, but not the same to whom they prayed. The latter, though seeking what the Pagan sought, yet was distinguished from the Pagan; for he sought it of Him who had made all things. And God, who was far  from the Gentiles, was near  unto them: yet He had regard even to those who were afar off, and to those who were near, as the Apostle said: "And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off, and to them that were near."  Whom did He mean by those near? The Jews, because they  worshipped one God. Whom by those who were afar off? The Gentiles, because they had left Him by whom they were made and worshipped things which themselves had made. For it is not in space that any one is far from God, but in affections. Thou lovest God, thou art near unto Him. Thou hatest God, thou art far off. Thou art standing in the same place, both while thou art near and far off. This it was, my brethren, which the Prophet had regard to: although he saw the mercy of God extending over all, yet he saw something especial and peculiar shown toward the Jews, and he saith, "Nevertheless, I will hearken what the Lord God shall say unto me: for He shall speak peace unto His people;" and His people shall be, not Judaea only, but it shall be gathered together out of all nations: "For He shall speak peace unto His Saints, and to those who turn their hearts unto Him," and to all who shall turn their hearts unto Him from the whole world. "Nevertheless, His salvation shall be nigh them that fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land:" that is, in that land in which the Prophet was born, greater glory shall dwell, because Christ began to be preached from thence. Thence were the Apostles, and thither first they were sent; from thence were the Prophets, there first was the Temple, there sacrifice was made to God, there were the Patriarchs, there He Himself came of the seed of Abraham, there Christ was manifested, there Christ appeared; for from thence was the Virgin Mary who bore Christ. There He walked with His feet, there He worked miracles. Thirdly, He ascribed so great honour to that nation, that when a certain Canaanitish woman interrupted Him, praying for the healing of her daughter, He said unto her, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  Seeing this, the Prophet saith, "that glory may dwell in our land."
9. "Mercy and truth have met together" (ver. 10). "Truth in our land," in a Jewish person, "mercy" in the land of the Gentiles. For where was truth? Where the utterances of God were. Where was mercy? On those who had left their God, and turned themselves unto devils. Did He look down  also upon them? Yea, as if He said, Call those who are fugitives afar off, who have departed far from Me: call them, let them find Me who seek them, since they themselves would not seek Me. Therefore, "Mercy and truth have met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Do righteousness, and thou shalt have peace; that righteousness and peace may kiss each other. For if thou love not righteousness, thou shalt not have peace; for those two, righteousness and peace, love one another, and kiss one another: that he who hath done righteousness may find peace kissing righteousness. They two are friends: thou perhaps willest the one, and not the other: for there is no one who wills not peace: but all will not work righteousness. Ask all men, Willest thou peace? With one mouth the whole race of man answers thee, I wish, I desire, I will, I love it. Love also righteousness: for these two, righteousness and peace, are friends; they kiss one another: if thou love not the friend of peace, peace itself will not love thee, nor come unto thee. For what great thing is it to desire peace? Every bad man longeth for peace. For peace is a good thing. But do righteousness, for righteousness and peace kiss one another, they quarrel not together....
10. "Truth hath sprung out of the earth, and righteousness hath looked down from heaven" (ver. 11). "Truth hath sprung out of the earth:" Christ is born of a woman. The Son of God hath come forth of the flesh. What is truth? The Son of God. What is the earth? Flesh. Ask whence Christ was born, and thou seest that "Truth is sprung out of the earth." But the Truth which sprang out of the earth was before the earth, and by It the heaven and the earth were made: but in order that righteousness might look down from heaven, that is, in order that men might be justified by Divine grace, Truth was born of the Virgin Mary; that He might be able to offer a sacrifice to justify them, the sacrifice of suffering, the sacrifice of the Cross. And how could He offer a sacrifice for our sins, except He died? How could He die, except He received from us that wherein He might die; that is, unless He received from us mortal flesh, Christ could not have died: because the Word of God dieth not, Godhead dieth not, the Virtue and Wisdom of God doth not die. How should He offer a sacrifice, a healing victim, if He died not? How should He die, unless He clothed Himself with flesh? How should He put on flesh, except truth sprang out of the earth?
11. On the same passage we may mention another meaning. "Truth is sprung out of the earth:" confession from man. For thou, O man, wast a sinner. O earth, who when thou hadst sinned didst hear the sentence, "Earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return,"  from thee let truth spring, that righteousness may look down from heaven. How doth truth spring from thee, whilst thou art a sinner, whilst thou art unrighteous? Confess thy sins, and truth shall spring out of thee. For if whilst thou art unrighteous, thou callest thyself just, how can truth spring out of thee? But if being unrighteous thou dost confess thyself to be so, "truth hath sprung out of the earth."...What "righteousness hath looked down from heaven"? It is that of God, as though He said: Let us spare this man, for he spareth not himself: let us pardon him, for he himself confesseth. He is changed so as to punish his sin: I too will change, so as to set him free.
12. "For the Lord shall give sweetness, and our land shall give her increase" (ver. 12)....He will give unto thee the sweetness of working righteousness, so that righteousness shall begin to delight thee, whom before unrighteousness delighted: so that thou who at first didst delight in drunkenness, shall rejoice in sobriety: and thou who didst at first rejoice in theft, so as to take from another man what thou hadst not, shalt seek to give to him that hath not that which thou hast: and thou who didst take delight in robbing, shalt delight now in giving: thou whom shows delighted, shalt delight in prayer; thou who didst delight in trifling and lascivious songs, shalt now delight in singing hymns to God; in running to church, thou who at first didst run to the theatre. Whence is that sweetness born to thee, except from this, that "God giveth sweetness"? For, behold, ye see what I mean: behold, I have spoken unto you the word of God, I have sown seed in your devout hearts, finding your souls furrowed, as it were, with the plough of confession: with devout attention ye have received the seed; think now upon the word which ye have heard, like those who break up the clouds, lest the fowls should carry away the seed, that what is sown may be able to spring up there: and unless God rain upon it, what profits it that it is sown? This is what is meant by "our land shall give her increase." May He with His visitations, in leisure, in business, in your house, in your bed, at meal-time, in conversation, in walks, visit your hearts, when we are not by. May the rain of God come and make to sprout what is sown there: and when we are not by, and are resting quietly, or otherwise employed, may God give increase to the seeds which we have sown, that remarking afterwards your improved characters, we too may rejoice for your fruit.
13. "For righteousness shall go before him, and he shall direct his steps in the way" (ver. 14): that righteousness, namely, which consists in confession of sins: for this is truth itself. For thou oughtest to be righteous towards thyself, and to punish thyself: for this is the beginning of man's righteousness, that thou shouldest punish thyself, who art evil, and God should make thee good. Therefore since this is the beginning of man's righteousness, this becomes a way for God, that God may come unto thee: there make for Him a way, in confession of sins. Therefore John too, when he was baptizing in the water of repentance, and would have men come to him repenting of their former deeds, spoke thus: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight."  Thou didst please thyself in thy sins, O man: let that which thou wast displease thee, that thou mayest be able to become what thou wast not. Prepare the way of the Lord: let that righteousness go before, of confession of sins: He will come and visit thee, for now He hath where to place His steps, He hath whereby He may come to thee. Before thou didst confess thy sins, thou hadst shut up the way of God: there was no way by which He might come unto thee. Confess thy past life, and thou openest a way; and Christ shall come unto thee, and "shall place His steps in the way," that He may guide thee with His own footsteps.
Let us pray in the words of Augustine.
Turn we to the Lord God, the Father Almighty, and with pure hearts offer to him, so far as our meanness can, great and true thanks, with all our hearts praying his exceeding kindness, that of his good pleasure he would deign to hear our prayers, that by his Power he would drive out the enemy from our deeds and thoughts, that he would increase our faith, guide our understandings, give us spiritual thoughts, and lead us to his bliss, through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with him, in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
[A prayer which he was wont to use after his Sermons and Lectures.]
NPNF (V1-08) St. Augustine
 Lat. LXXXIV. A sermon to the people.  [He repeats the former comment on this. See pp. 132, 400, supra.--C.]  Rom. x. 4.  John xiv. 6.  Rom. vii. 24, 25.  Gen. iii. 19.  1 Cor. xv. 22.  1 Cor. xv. 22.  John viii. 12.  [i.e., Thy Joshua, which is inwoven with the idea of salvation everywhere in the Old Testament (see Gen. xlix. 18), till all is fixed in Christ, the true Joshua. Matt. i. 21.--C.]  1 John iii. 2.  1 John iii. 2.  Oxf. mss. "Therefore if He has."  Oxf. mss. deprimente.  Wisd. ix. 15.  1 Cor. xv. 53.  [This exquisite passage, adopted by Bishop Horne in his precious illustrations of the Psalter, reads in the original as follows: unde amicus non exit, quo inimicus non intrat.--C.]  1 Cor. xv. 28.  Oxf. mss. "near," "nearer."  Oxf. mss. "near," "nearer."  Eph. ii. 17.  Oxf. mss. "who."  Matt. xv. 24.  Despexit; one ms. dispexit.  Gen. iii. 19.  Matt. iii. 3