“With the Lord there is unfailing love; great is His power to set us free” – Vespers II of Christmas.
The human heart longs for freedom – it is boundless in its aspirations for we were made in the image and likeness of God and are destined to live eternally with Him in love. He has made us for Himself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. (cf Confessions of St Augustine). A glance at our newspapers or TV news demonstrates this restlessness – this past year has witnessed the eruption of violence in many parts of our world – all seeking freedom of one sort or another. Left to ourselves, we humans, seek freedom apart from God and in the wrong places. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God – yet through fear, they hid from God.
I have been very struck by the frequency of this theme of ‘freedom’ in our Advent liturgy – where we cry out to the Lord in such phrases as: “come and set us free”; Lord may your Son bring us freedom”; Come Lord, make no delay! Release your people from their bonds”. This theme of freedom resonates with the vision of monastic life as being “free for God alone”. Freedom always implies a ‘freedom from something’ and a ‘freedom for something’. We have a good example in the Book of Exodus: Moses asked Pharaoh to set the people free so that they could go to the desert to worship God. St Paul describes Baptism as dying to sin so that we might live for God. (Rom 6).
Tonight we celebrate the birth of the One who brings us true freedom – the Saviour, Jesus, who will “save his people from their sins” (Mt 1) – the freedom to give oneself away – to surrender in love to Another after the example which He has given us – the radical, reckless kind of giving which we see in the self-emptying of the Eternal Word who lowers Himself to become one of us in order to raise us up to share in the very life of the Trinity.
True freedom is not about ‘doing my own thing’ – on the contrary Jesus, who was the freest person that ever lived on this earth, was always attentive to the Will of His Father – ‘I do always what please Him’. Perhaps freedom has as much to do with the ability to listen and receive as about giving and doing. Because Jesus, and like him Mary, were always open to receive the gift of the Father’s love they also radiated that love to others. Sometimes we can be frantically trying to ‘serve’ God while forgetting the truth that “the most fruitful activity of the human person is to be able to receive God”. Mary was not inert or totally passive when she said her ‘yes’ to the Word taking flesh in her womb - rather “her entire being as a person is offered, given and handed over to the Holy Spirit” (cf Jean Corbon: The Wellspring of Worship)
As we celebrate this great feast of Christmas we pray that we may be among a great multitude of those who lay aside pride and selfishness or whatever blocks us and in stillness and emptiness will open ourselves to receive this wondrous gift – Mary’s Son who alone can set us free and teach us the way of love.
With the Lord there is unfailing love; great is His power to set us free. Stand steadfast! You will see the saving power of God.