Today, as a firstborn son, Christ went down into Egypt to end the mourning its ancient bereavement had brought upon that land. Instead of plagues he brought joy, instead of night and darkness he gave the light of salvation.

Of old the river's water had been polluted by the untimely deaths of murdered infants. Therefore he who long ago had stained the waters red went down into Egypt and purified those waters by the power of the Holy Spirit, making them the source of salvation. When the Egyptians were afflicted they raged against God and denied him. Therefore he went down into Egypt, filled devout souls with the knowledge of God, and made the river more productive of martyrs than it was of ears of grain.

What more shall I say of this mystery? I see a carpenter and a manger, an infant and swaddling clothes, a virgin giving birth without the necessaries of life, nothing but poverty and complete destitution. Have you ever seen wealth in such great penury? How could he who was rich have become, for our sake, so poor that he had neither bed nor bedding but was laid in a manger? O immeasurable wealth concealed in poverty! He lies in a manger, yet he rocks the whole world. He is bound with swaddling bands, yet he breaks the bonds of sin. Before he could speak he taught the wise men and converted them. What else can I say? Here is the newborn babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. With him are Mary, virgin and mother, and Joseph who was called his father.

Joseph was only betrothed to Mary when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her; so he was at a loss as to what he should call the child. While he was in this perplexity a message from heaven came to him by the voice of an angel: Do not be afraid, Joseph. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child. In her virginity the Holy Spirit overshadowed her.

Why was Christ born of a virgin, and her virginity preserved inviolate? Because of old the devil had deceived the virgin Eve, Gabriel brought the Good News to the Virgin Mary. Having fallen into the trap, Eve spoke the word that led to death. Having received the good News, Mary gave birth to the incarnate Word who has brought us eternal life.

(Christmas Homily: 56, 392)

Sermon excerpt from Journey with the Fathers: Year A, edited by Edith Barnecut O.S.B. (New City Press, 1993). Used by permission.