The Liturgy of Christmas can be considered as beginning with I Vespers. The proper antiphons of Vespers begin the liturgical journey of Christmas:
The King of peace, the true Solomon, is highly exalted, and all the earth shall see him,* to hear the wisdom which God hath put in his heart.
Solomon is the son of King David, obviously. Yet this is important. All David fights against those who currently occupy the promised land. Solomon, following David, is not a fighting King but a King who reigns in peace. At least – that is how it is supposed to be. The point is that the at Baptism – when Jerusalem is taken from the Jebusites – a fight begins. This fight is ascesis or as St. Evagrius called it: praktike. Like David we go out to war and fight against passions. The word “passion” does not here mean what it means today. A passion indicates enslavement. Whatever it is that makes us do something we are enslaved to/by. It indicates to whom or what we are subject. It is that subjection or enslavement that we are called to throw off. This struggle is asceticism. The end (as in goal) of this fight is peace or better yet wholeness. This will have been achieved when we are king of what used to enslave us. When we have come out on top so to speak. Our inner Jesrusalem (heart) is at peace once we have conquered our feelings, desires, and even our needs. At this point we are not driven by anything anymore … Rather we are doing the driving ourselves. No one is born free, according to Christian teaching, we have to struggle to become free.
Solomon is a sort of prophecy of Jesus Christ. So is David. What we have therefore is a perfect pattern of the struggle we are called to engage in and the end for which have undertaken it. Jesus Christ in dealing with his own human nature, its vulnerability, and its enemies (other people, but also the devil himself) shows how a true David fights and how a true Solomon reigns.
One could say that so long as we struggle on the path of asceticism we are pregnant with the future life. Our Baptism – our spiritual rebirth – has planted the seed of life deep within and it needs to be nurtured to grow until it comes to birth in the Resurrection. The “birth of Life” we heard about in the Breviary begins at Baptism but reaches its goal in resurrection. The Blessed Virgin Mary is all pure and free from sin because of Jesus Christ – her Son. Her sinlessness is not her personal achievement but the result of Divine Life being planted in her and comes to full fruition in the 14th Mystery of the Rosary her Assumption into Heaven (the coronation is – as it were – a side effect of her resurrection). The Immaculate Conception (of Our Lady) prefigures Holy Baptism where we are freed from original sin by the Lord Jesus. In the Blessed Virgin, therefore, we also have a biblical and traditional ascetical pattern.
I had intended to briefly touch upon all the propers of (at least) Vespers here … But the wondrous beauty and depth of the Liturgy is a vast and deep ocean. Perhaps this is far enough from the coast for now. The bottom is not too far from my feet yet. More later.
May your Christmastide be merry, full of joy, and may the divine life in yoy make you Solomon – the king of peace.
Gregory Wassen +