Anthony_Sermons - THE CIRCUMCISION OF THE LORD
6. His naming: His name was called Jesus (Lc 2,21). Name of sweetness, name of delight, name comforting the sinner and full of hope! "Joyful in the heart, melodious in the ear, like honey in the mouth."11 Of this joyful name, the Bride says in the Canticles:
Thy name is as oil poured out. (Ct 1,2)
Note that oil has five properties: it floats on other liquids, it softens what is hard, it smoothes what is rough, it illuminates what is dark, it satisfies the body. In the same way the name of Jesus is above every other name of men or angels, for in the name of Jesus every race bows the knee (cf. Ph 2,10). If you preach it, you soften hard hearts; if you call upon it, it smoothes rough temptations; if you think on it, it enlightens the heart; if you commission it, it satisfies the mind.
And take note that this name Jesus is not only called ‘oil’, but ‘poured out’. Whence? And whither? From the Father’s heart into heaven, earth and hell. In heaven, to give joy to the angels, so that they cry out in exultation in the Apocalypse:
Salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, (Ap 7,10)
That is, to Jesus. In earth, for the comforting of sinners, of which Isaiah says:
Thy name and thy remembrance are the desire of the soul; my soul shall desire thee in the night. (Is 26,8-9)
In hell, to free the captives, so that they are said to have cried on bended knee, "You have come, our Redeemer, etc."12
7. Concerning this name, let me briefly quote what Innocent13 has written: "This name ‘Jesus’ has two syllables and five letters, three vowels and two consonants.14 Two syllables, because Jesus has two natures, divine and human. The divine comes from the Father, of whom he is born without a mother; the human comes from his mother, of whom he was born without a father. See, then, two syllables in one name, because there are two natures in this one Person. Note, further, that a vowel is that which can be sounded by itself, while a consonant must be sounded with some other. The three vowels stand for the divinity, which being one in itself, sounds in the three Persons. For,
There are three who give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. (1Jn 5,7)
The two consonants stand for the humanity, which, having two substances (flesh and soul), does not sound by itself, but rather with another, to which it is joined in unity of Person. ‘For since the rational soul and the flesh make one human nature, so God and man make one Christ.’15 A ‘person’ is called thus, being a rational substance sounding perse, and this is Christ. "And he is both God and man, but in himself he speaks inasmuch as he is God, not as man, because the deity retains the right of personality in assuming human nature, but the humanity did not receive the right of the personality in being assumed. For person does not assume person, nor nature assume nature, but person assumes nature."16
"This name, then, is holy and glorious, and it is invoked upon us (Jr 14,9); nor, as Peter says, is there any other name under heaven, whereby we must be saved (cf. Ac 4,12).
By this name may he himself save us, who is God, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is blessed above all, for ever and ever. Amen."17
8. Sephora took a very sharp stone, and circumcised the foreskin of her son, (Ex 4,25) as Exodus 4 says.
There is something similar in Genesis 21:
Abraham called the name of his son, whom Sara bore him, Isaac; and he circumcised him the eighth day, as God had commanded him. (Gn 21,3-4)
It was not his mother, nor Joseph his foster-father, but ‘Abraham’, that is, the eternal Father, who gave him the name of salvation. Where there is salvation, there is laughter; for Isaac means ‘laughter’, and Jesus (whose name means ‘salvation’ or ‘saviour’) is our laughter.
Note that there is a certain plant which is called ‘salvation’, because it eases the aching of the head or the stomach. The aching of the head represents pride of mind; and it is told in IV Kings 4 that the sun beat upon the head of the child, and
He said to his father: My head acheth, my head acheth. (2R 4,19)
Again, in Judith 8:
Manasses died in the time of the barley harvest; for he was standing over them that bound sheaves in the field, and the heat came upon his head. (Jdt 8,2-3)
Manasses (meaning ‘forgetful’) represents the friend of the world who is forgetful of eternity and goes out to reap the barley. Barley, the food of cattle, represents temporal things. When the brute man seeks to gather them and bind them in sheaves by storing them in his treasury, the heat of vainglory comes upon his head, from which arises the elation of pride, and so the death of the soul. Again, the aching of the stomach is the seething of wrath; whence Isaiah 57 says:
The wicked are like the raging sea which cannot rest:
And the waves thereof cast up dirt and mire. (Is 57,20)
When a man burns with anger he is like a raging sea, because there is bitterness in his heart, disturbance in his reason, blindness in his mind and rancour against his brother. That is why he is called ‘impious’, a man without piety. He strikes some, he curses others.
But our salvation, Jesus, cures these illnesses, saying Blessed are the poor in spirit (Mt 5,3) against the first, and Blessed are the meek (Mt 5,4) against the second, and so on. Glory be to the Father, then, who sent us salvation; and praise be to the Virgin who bore him and circumcised him today.
Let it be said, then: Sephora took. Her name means ‘looking upon him’, and she is the blessed Virgin, who gazed upon him face to face as he lay in the manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths and crying in that humble stable, he on whom the angels desire to look (cf. 1P 1,12).
9. Sephora took a very sharp stone. 'The Jews assert that the custom of circumcising with stone knives is derived from this text, or else from Josue at Gilgal. Nevertheless, where we have the word ‘stone’, the Hebrew has ‘blade’, and ‘a very sharp blade’ means ‘a razor’; and so the Jews circumcise with razors."18 Whether the Lord’s circumcision was with a stone or a metal knife, whether it was performed by blessed Mary or by Joseph, or by relatives of either of them, is not very important and we need waste no time investigating it. What we know for certain is that he was circumcised today; the words that are added, she circumcised the foreskin of her son, should be taken as meaning either that she herself circumcised, or arranged for him to be circumcised by someone else, according to the Lord’s command.
And note that Christ’s whole life was in blood. He began with blood on the eighth day, and he ended in blood. This was most necessary for us, because, as the Apostle says,
All things are cleansed in blood; and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (He 9,22)
It is to be noted, then, that Christ shed his blood five times. The first was today, at the circumcision; the second in his sweat, the third in his scourging, the fourth in his crucifixion, the fifth when his side was pierced by the spear. The sun appears red at its rising and at its setting, and so Christ was blood-red at the beginning and at the end of his life. Blessed is he, for ever and ever. Amen.
10. Sephora took a very sharp stone. There is something similar in Josue 5:
The Lord said to Josue: Make thee knives of stone, and circumcise the second time the children of Israel. He did what the Lord had commanded. (Jos 5,2-3)
The Lord said:
This day I have taken away from you the reproach of Egypt. (Jos 5,9)
Sephora means ‘his bird’, or ‘looking at him’ or ‘pleasing’ or ‘adhering’. Sephora is the faithful soul, which if it were a bird would be looking; and if looking would be pleasing; and if pleasing would be adhering. Each one follows from the rest. She is a ‘bird’ by the abandonment of things, ‘looking’ by contemplation of heavenly things, ‘pleasing’ by love and ‘adhering’ by union. When she is lifted up, she looks, when she looks she is set on fire with love, when she is on fire she is united. Let us treat each of these.
The two wings of a bird are faith and love in the soul, which lift her from earthly things. Faith and hope are concerned with what cannot be seen, and so they raise one up from
visible to invisible realities. Those who have only a verbal faith, who put their hope in themselves and their possessions, and trust in man- these gape at earthly things and have a taste for earthly things. So Job says that man (who savours the soil and lives in the water of greed and lust) is born to labour, like a beast of burden. The peasant puts blinkers on his donkey’s eyes, and beats it with a stick, and so it drags the weighty millstone in a circle. The peasant is the devil, and his ass in the worldly man. He closes his eyes, blinding his reason and understanding, and beats him with the stick of cupidity, so that he may drag the millstone of worldly vanity behind him.
The wicked walk round about: O my God, make them like a wheel. (Ps 11,9 Ps 82 Ps 14)
But the bird is born to fly (Jb 5,7). Natural History says that the narrower the breast of a bird, the more easily it flies. If it were wide, it would displace more air and move sluggishly. The Lord says in Job 39:
Will the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest in high places?
She abideth among the rocks, and dwelleth among cragged flints, and stony hills where there is no access.
From thence she looketh for the prey, and her eyes behold afar off. (Jb 39,27-29)
The eagle is that happy soul which restrains its breast from the breadth of temporal things, so that it may be lifted up from earthly things and be able to make the nest of her conversation among the crags. As the Apostle says:
Our conversation is in the heavens. (Ph 3,20)
And note that "He says ‘the heavens’, not ‘heaven’. There are three heavens. The first is subtlety of understanding, the second is clarity of justice, the third is sublimity of glory. In the first there is the contemplation of the truth; in the second, the love of equity; in the third, the fulness of eternal joy. In the first, ignorance is enlightened; in the second, concupiscence is extinguished; in the third, misery is swallowed up. If the light of truth surrounds you, you reach the first heaven. If the flame of love sets you on fire, you dwell in the second. If you savour some taste of interior sweetness, you are admitted to the third."19 This taste is union, whereby the Bride is united to the Bridegroom:
He who is joined to God is one spirit (cf. 1Co 6,17)
These three heavens can be assigned to the ‘rocks’, the ‘flints’ and the ‘stony hills’. In the ‘rocks’, because of their stability, there is the contemplation of truth. In the ‘flints’ there is the love of equity, because from flint we strike fire, which represents the love of the Creator. In the ‘stony hills’, which long abide, there is the fulness of eternal joy.
Alternatively, these three represent those angelic virtues which abide in perpetual love of the Creator, which may be called cragged flints and inaccessible hills. When the others fell, they remained immobile, and the apostates can neither climb them nor approach them. From them, Sephora the winged bird, the contemplative soul, gazes upon God, her food and her refreshment.
11. Let us say, then: Sephora took a very sharp stone, and circumcised the foreskin of her son.
Let us see what is meant by the very sharp stone, the son, his foreskin and circumcision. The stone is penitence, of which Job 29 says:
Who will grant me that I might be according to the months past...
when I washed my feet with butter, and the rock poured me out rivers of oil? (Jb 29,2)
The ‘month’ is perfection, the ‘butter’ is the sweetness of grace, the ‘rivers of oil’ are the shedding of tears. Job, then, meaning ‘grieving’, is the penitent who sighs for his first conversion and perfection of behaviour. Then was sweetness of grace in his mind, to wash his feet (his affections) from all filthiness. Then the rock, harsh penance, poured forth floods of tears. And note that just as oil floats on other liquids, so tears cover every good work. A work without devotion is like a lamp without oil. This stone is sharp in contrition, sharper still in confession, but sharpest of all in works of satisfaction, with which Sephora must circumcise the foreskin of her son.
The son is the body, and its foreskin is temporal superfluity, which does not let a man consider his wretchedness. It is reckoned shameful to display. Hence the ‘aprons’, of which Genesis 3 says:
When Adam and Eve perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig-leaves, and made themselves aprons, (Gn 3,7)
or loincloths, like short breeches. Exiled from heaven, the children of Adam, who are stripped of God’s grace, gladly cover themselves with fig-leaves. Note that fig-leaves cause itching, and they shrink and dry up in the heat of the sun; likewise temporal things cause the itch of lust, and in the heat of death leave those they have covered naked. Happy that soul who circumcises the foreskin of her son! Here is the stony knife with which the sons of Israel (Christians) are circumcised a second time, who first were circumcised in Baptism from all sin. But, because malice increased and wickedness abounded, they are circumcised again by Jesus Christ with the stony knife of harsh penance. And so ‘the reproach of Egypt’ (mortal sin) which they had contracted from the darkness of the world, is taken away.
12. Alternatively, The rock was Christ (cf. 1Co 10,4). Whence the Psalm says that the rock is a refuge for the rabbits. (Ps 103,18), sinners who are beset by sin. And again,
Blessed be he that shall take (i.e. restrain) thy little ones (movements) against the rock (Christ). (Ps 136,9). When a wave of the sea breaks against a rock, is itself broken. In the same way, if the tempest of your temptation beaks against Christ, it is broken by the very power of his strength, and you will escape safely.
This stone is sharp in the scourge of our present misery, and so Genesis says:
Cursed is the earth in thy work; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to thee. (Gn 3,17-18)
It is sharper in the incineration of the flesh, whence:
Ash thou art, and into ash thou shalt return. (cf. Gn 3,19)
It will be sharpest of all in the pronouncement of the irrevocable sentence:
Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, etc. (Mt 25,41)
With the sharpness of this fear, the soul not merely cuts but circumcises the foreskin of her son, not only by making evil to be taken away, and by showing works of mercy to others; but even by removing sweet things from her own mouth, curiosities from her eyes, flatteries from her ears, soft things from her hands, and delights from her whole body.
May Jesus himself, then, who was circumcised this day for us, so circumcise us from all vices that in the eighth day of the resurrection we may be found fit to rejoice in the double robe. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
1 Cf. INNOCENT III, Sermon 4, On the circumcision of the Lord; PL 217.465
6 CICERO, Oratio X,33
7 See above, Festival Sermon on the Nativity, 11-14
8 ISIDORE, Sententiae 1,26,1-2; PL 83.594
9 cf. P.LOMBARD, Sententiae, II, dist 19,4
10 cf. Ibid. dist 25,3
11 cf. BERNARD, In Cantica sermo 15,6; PL 183.847
12 ROMAN BREVIARY, Office of the Dead, Resp. 3 at Mattins
13 INNOCENT III, Sermons on the Saints 4, on the Circumcision of the Lord; PL 217.4667
14 In Latin, J is a vowel, the same as I.
15 Athanasian Creed
16 INNOCENT III, loc. cit.
17 INNOCENT III, loc. cit.; PL 217.470
18 P.COMESTOR, Historia scholastica, liber Exodi, 10; PL 198.1147
19 RICHARD OF ST VICTOR, Mystical notes on the Psalms, Ps 121; PL 196.365-6
The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury
1. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Juda, etc. (Mt 2,1)
In this Gospel three things are noted: the appearance of the star, the troubling of Herod, and the offering of the three Magi.
2. The appearance of the star: When Jesus was born. In this first clause there is noted morally how a person is converted from worldly vanity to a new state of life. But first we will briefly deal with the history.
"Jesus was born on a Sunday night, for on the very day that he said: Be light made; and light was made (Gn 1,3), The Orient from on high hath visited us (Lc 1,78)."1 "It is told that Octavian Augustus saw in the sky a virgin, carrying a son and showing him to the Sybil; and from then on he forbade anyone to call him ‘Lord’, because the King of kings and Lord of lords (Ap 19,16) was born. And so the poet2 says,
‘A new progeny is sent down from heaven above.’
A very great spring of oil flowed all day from the inn, without cost; for there was born on earth the one who was anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows (cf. Ps 44,8). The temple of Peace shook to its very foundations. The Romans, for the sake of the perfect peace which was to come upon the whole world under Caesar Augustus, had wonderfully constructed the temple of Peace. When they made enquiry as to how long it would endure, they received the answer, ‘Until a virgin gives birth.’ Rejoicing, they understood this to mean ‘for ever’, because a virgin would never give birth. But God has destroyed the wisdom of the wise and has rejected the prudence of the prudent (cf. 1Co 1,19); because at the very hour of the Lord’s birth, the foundations crumbled."3
"On the thirteenth day after his birth, that is, today, Behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star (Mt 2,1-2). They were called ‘Magi’, from the greatness of their knowledge. Those whom the Greeks call ‘philosophers’, the Persians call ‘Magi’. They came from the
region of the Persians and Chaldeans. It may be that in thirteen days they were able to cross a vast distance on their dromedaries. The star was perceived by the rest in its splendour, in one place and in motion. In a splendour which the light of day could not impair. In a place, because it was not in the firmament with the lesser stars, nor in the aether with the planets, but it held its way in the air close to the earth. And in motion, because at first it stood still over Judea and gave the Magi the sign to come to Judea; and of their own deliberation they came to Jerusalem as the capital of Judea. When they left that place, at first it went before them with perceptible motion, and when it had performed its function it soon ceased to be, returning to the pre-existing matter from which it had been taken."4
Note that "This day is called Epiphany, from ‘epi’ (‘above’) and ‘phane’ (giving light’), because today Christ was manifested by the sign of the star. It is called ‘Theophany’, from ‘theos’ (‘God’), because being manifested today, after thirty years he was baptized by the word of the Father in the river Jordan. It is also called ‘Bethphany’, from ‘beth’ (‘house’), because one year after his Baptism he performed a divine miracle in a house, at the wedding."5
3. When Jesus was born, etc. Let us see what the moral significance of these four is: the star, the Magi, the east and Jerusalem.
The star is the illumination of divine grace, or the knowledge of the truth. So it stands for Jesus, from whom all grace comes, who says in the last chapter of the Apocalypse:
I am the root and stock of David, the bright and morning star. (Ap 22,16)
Jesus Christ, though he is the son, is also the ‘root’ (that is, the father) of David; or else, just as a root carries the tree, so the mercy of Christ carried David, a sinner and a penitent. He is a ‘bright star’ in enlightening the mind, the ‘morning star’ in the knowledge of the truth.
The Magi are the worldly wise of which Isaiah 19 speaks:
The wise counsellors of Pharao have given foolish counsel. (Is 19,11).
Pharao (meaning ‘uncovering a man’) is the world, which covers by its vanity but uncovers in the misery of death. It gives nothing but convenient counsel, which it repeats in the greater need, and leaves us naked and wretched. Foolish, then, is the counsel of those wise men who advise people to gather what is not theirs, and which they cannot take with them; and to burden themselves with what they cannot carry through the narrow gateway. The gate of death is so narrow that the soul itself can barely pass through, naked and alone. When we come to the passage, we must put away all earthly weight; yet because ‘sins have no substance’, they easily pass through with the soul.
The ‘east’ is worldly vanity or prosperity. So Ezekiel 8 says:
I saw, and behold, men having their backs towards the temple of the Lord and their faces towards the east: and they adored toward the rising of the sun. (Ez 8,7)
The temple is Christ’s humanity, or the life of any just man. Those who turn their backs on the Lord’s temple, and their faces towards the east, are those who forget the Passion and death of Christ, and direct all their knowledge and taste towards the vanity of the world. So Jeremiah 2 complains:
They have turned their back to me, and not their face:
and in the time of their affliction (death) they will say: Arise, and deliver us.
Where are the gods (pleasures and riches), whom thou hast made thee?
Let them arise and deliver thee in the time of thy affliction. (Jr 2,27-28)
Alternatively, those who turn their backs to the temple and adore towards the rising of the sun, are those who despise the poverty, humility and affliction of the just, and reckon happy those who abound in pleasures and riches.
Jerusalem (‘peaceful’) is newness of life, that is, penitence. So Isaiah 32 says:
My people shall sit in the beauty of peace, and in the tabernacles of confidence, and in wealthy rest. (Is 32,18)
Happy state, wherein is the beauty of a peaceful conscience, the confidence of holy conversation, and the wealth of fraternal charity! Just as the star drew the Magi from the east to Jerusalem, so divine grace draws sinners from the vanity of the world to penitence, to seek the new-born king, and seeking to find him, and finding him to adore him. They say, Where is he who is born king of the Jews? (Mt 2,2); that is, of those who confess, of penitents? They seek the King of penitents, born in them, who bids them do penance. They say, We have seen his star in the east (that is, we have come to know his grace amid the vanity of the world), and so by him we have come to worship him.
4. The troubling of Herod: King Herod hearing this was troubled (Mt 2,3)
The devil, king of a troubled crowd, is troubled. The world, too, is troubled when it hears that Christ is already born in penitents, and sees other sinners converted by grace to him. He grieves that his kingdom is depleted, and every day the kingdom of Christ is enlarged. So Exodus 1 says:
Pharao said to his people: Behold, the people of the children of Israel are numerous and stronger than we. Come, let us wisely oppress them, lest they multiply. (Ex 1,9-10)
The craftiness of the devil oppresses the children of God by temptation, and the malice of the world does so with blasphemy and injury. So there follows:
The Egyptians hated the children of Israel, and afflicted them, and mocked them; and they made their life bitter. (Ex 1,13-14)
The life of sinners is a smoothing of the just. Moab is the pot of my hope (Ps 59,10); for Moab means ‘from the father’, and represents those who are of their father the devil, and the wicked live for the just, that is, for their benefit.
Herod (meaning ‘glory of the skin) was troubled over the poor little new-born king; who says: I receive not glory from men (Jn 5,41); and: I seek not my own glory (Jn 8,50). He says:
My kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18,36)
The glory of the skin is troubled, because it sees its beauty turned to ugliness, its softness to roughness. So Isaiah 3 says:
Instead of a sweet smell there shall be a stench;
and instead of a girdle, a cord;
and instead of curled hair, baldness;
and instead of a stomacher, haircloth. (Is 3,24)
This needs no explanation: it is literally true in penitents. And in Exodus 33:
Now presently lay aside thy ornaments, that I may know what to do to thee. (Ex 33,5)
So Esther 14 says:
Queen Esther, fearing the danger that was at hand, had recourse to the Lord. And when she had laid away her royal apparel, she put on garments suitable for weeping and mourning. Instead of divers precious ointments, she covered her head with ashes and dung; and she humbled her body with fasts. And all the places in which before she was accustomed to rejoice, she filled with her torn hair. (Est 14,1-2)
Esther (meaning ‘hidden’) is the penitent soul which hides from the tumult of the world in
solitude of spirit and even of body. She has recourse to the Lord, because there is no refuge save in him from the danger of judgement, and it seems so present and ever- threatening that she is afraid. She puts off her robes of glory and puts on the garb of penitence; and instead of the ointments of all kinds of pleasure, she fills her head (her mind) with the ashes of her frailty and the dung of her own wickedness. She fasts conscientiously, and all the places, etc. This is what Gregory6 says about the Magdalene: "As many pleasures as she found within herself, so many did she make a sacrifice of."
5. The offering of the three Magi: And behold, the star which they had seen in the east (Mt 2,9).
O mercy of God, which never forgets to show pity! It is always at hand, to one who comes to himself. So Isaiah 58 says:
Then thou shalt call, and the Lord shall hear; thou shalt cry, and he shall say: Here I am (Is 58,9);
because I the Lord thy God am a merciful God (Dt 4,31)
And behold the star. When they turned aside to Herod, they lost sight of the star. This refers to backsliders who return to the devil or to mortal sin, and lose grace; but when they depart from him, they recover what they had lost. So Jeremiah 3 says:
It is commonly said: If a man put away his wife, and she go from him and marry another man, shall he return to her any more? Shall not that woman be polluted and defiled? But thou hast prostituted thyself to many lovers (demons and sins). Nevertheless return to me, saith the Lord. (Jr 3,1)
And behold, the star went before them (Mt 2,9). This is concordant to Exodus 13:
The Lord went before them to shew the way by day in a pillar of cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire; that he might be the guide of their journey at both times. (Ex 13,21)
"The pillar of cloud in the day protected against the heat of the sun, and the pillar of fire by night protected against darkness and the attacks of serpents."7 Note that the illumination of divine grace is called a ‘pillar’, because it supports; it is ‘of cloud’ because it cools the heat of the sun, worldly prosperity; it is ‘of fire’ against the cold of infidelity, the darkness of adversity, and the poison of the devil’s temptation.
Until it came and stood over where the child was (Mt 2,9). This is the completion of toil, journey’s end, joy of the seeker and reward of the finder. Therefore, Let the heart of
them that seek rejoice, (Ps 104,3) that seek you, O Jesus; and if of them that seek, how much more of them that find? The star went before, the cloud went before; the former showing the way to the Saviour’s stable, the latter to the land of promise. And the land of promise was in the stable, flowing with the honey of divinity and the milk of humanity! Run, then, after the star; hasten after the pillar, because they lead you to life. You will toil for a while, but you will soon arrive and find the desire of the saints, the joy of the angels.
6. And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy (Mt 2,10).
Note that in these three words a triple joy is indicated, which anyone who recovers grace that has been lost should have. He should rejoice that he has not died in mortal sin, and been damned eternally. He should rejoice because he has been restored to grace, which he has not merited; and because he will be brought to glory, if he perseveres. Of this triple joy Isaiah 61 says:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. (Is 61,10)
And entering into the house (Mt 2,11). It says in Luke 15 that the elder son was angry and would not go into the house (cf. Lc 15,25 Lc 15,28). The prodigal son, however, ‘returning to himself’ (cf. Lc 15,17), was already inside. The Apostles were told: Salute no man by the way (Lc 10,4). He who is ‘by the way’ is outside; and he who is outside is out of the house and not worthy of greeting. Indeed, as Amos 5 says:
In every street there shall be wailing; and in all the places that are without they shall say: Alas, alas! (Am 5,16)
They found the child with Mary his mother, and, falling down, they adored him (Mt 2,11).
Because they enter, they find; and because they find, they fall down and worship. In the child and Mary we see innocence and purity; in their falling down, self-contempt; in their adoration, the devotion of faith. Penitents should enter, then, the house of their own conscience, and find innocence towards their neighbours and purity as to themselves. And they should not be proud because of this, but fall on their faces and adore, devoutly and faithfully, him who gave these gifts
And entering into the house (the inn which Luke refers toj they found the child with Mary, etc. The Gloss says, "Why was not Joseph found with Mary by the Magi? Lest any occasion of evil suspicion should be given to the Gentiles, who had sent their first-fruits without delay to the new-born Saviour, to worship him."
And opening their treasures (Mt 2,11). The Gloss says, "We do not open our treasures on the way, until we offer from the secrets of our hearts the sacrifices of the past to God alone. Ezechias, who showed his treasures to strangers, was afterwards condemned." "He who carries his treasure openly in the way, is asking to be robbed."
7. They offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt 2,11).
Gold pertains to tribute, incense to sacrifice, myrrh to the burial of the dead. Or else, these three imply in Christ royal power, divine majesty and human mortality.
Alternatively, gold (which is bright, solid, and makes no noise when it is struck) denotes poverty, which is not dulled by the soot of avarice, nor blown away by the wind of temporal things. It is solidly based; when it is offended, it does not retaliate or grumble.
Again, in Arabia (meaning ‘sacred’) there is a grove in which incense and myrrh are found. Those who control this grove are (in Arabic) called ‘sacred’. When they harvest or cut this grove, they do not take part in funerals or defile themselves with sexual intercourse. The incense tree is immense and many-branched, very smooth skinned, and secreting a sweet-scented sap like almond. Its name is connected with ‘striking’, or with ‘God’ who is honoured with it. It may be adulterated with a mixture of gum and resin, but its properties can be distinguished; for incense burns when fire is applied to it, while resin smokes and gum liquefies.
The incense tree stands for prayerful devotion. It is immense in contemplation, many branched in fraternal charity (praying both for friends and enemies), and soft skinned in outward kindness. It secretes the sweet-scented sap of tears, pleasing in the sight of God. So Canticles 4 says:
Arise, O north wind (that is, depart, O devil),
and come, O south wind (O Holy Spirit);
blow through my garden (my mind),
and let the aromatical spices thereof flow (that is, tears). (Ct 4,16)
This sap is the refreshment of sinners, as the milk of almonds is refreshment for the sick. He who prays beats his breast, and his devotion goes up to God. But alas! Today prayerful devotion is adulterated and corrupted by being mixed with the resin of vainglory in hypocrites, and with the gum of money in those wretched clergy who offer prayers and Masses for monetary reward. True devotion burns with the fire of divine love, but when corrupted with vanity it smokes, and dissolves in cupidity.
Again, the myrrh tree rises to a height of five cubits. Its sap is even more precious, and flows freely; that which is obtained by cutting the bark is reckoned inferior. Myrrh, which is bitter, is the bitter affliction of the heart or body. Its first cubit is the remembrance of death Its second is the presence of the angry judge in the judgement. Its third is his irrevocable sentence. Its fourth is the unquenchable Gehenna. Its fifth is the company of all wicked men and the unavoidable and close punishment by the demons, a tenacious penalty. What flows freely from this tree is more precious and more acceptable to God; what is drawn out by the wound of sickness or adversity is less valuable.
8. The Magi, then, offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
So true penitents offer him the gold of pure poverty, the incense of devout prayer, and the myrrh of voluntary affliction. And note that the incense of devout prayer and the myrrh of saving penance are found nowhere but in Arabia, that is, holy Church. Whoever wants to keep them and gather their fruit must keep clear of the corpse of unjust reward, which the miser seeks as a crow seeks a corpse, and from lustful intercourse.
Let us then ask the Lord that we may offer him these three things, so as to reign with him who is blessed for ever. Amen.
Anthony_Sermons - THE CIRCUMCISION OF THE LORD