Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Sermon on the Birthday of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sermon 62. On the Birthday of Our Lord Jesus Christ{1}.

1. Well it is that people frequently call this day of the Lord’s birth “the new sun” and assert it with such force that even the Jews and pagans agree to the name{2}. This should willingly be accepted by us, since with the rising of the Savior there is salvation not only for the human race, but even the brilliance of the sun itself is renewed, as the Apostle says: that He should restore all things through Him, whether in the heavens or on the earth (Eph. 1.10). For if the sun is darkened when Christ suffers (Cf. Matt. 27.45), it must necessarily shine more brightly than usual when He is born. And if it poured forth darkness upon the Jews who dealt Him death, why should it not show its brilliance to Mary who brought Him into life? And why should we not believe that when Christ was born a more resplendent sun should come to pay Him homage, since a brighter star went before the Magi as a sign?{3}. And if a star performed a service out of season during the day, why should we not believe that the sun also subtracted a little from the night hours by a speedier appearance?

I think, then, that for these reasons the night waned while the hastening sun, out of homage due the Lord’s birth, produced light for the world before the night had finished its accustomed course. Indeed, I do not even say that this was a night – wherein shepherds keep watch, angels rejoice (Cf. Luke 2.8-20), and the stars attend – or that it had any element of darkness. Nor ought we to be surprised that at the birth of Christ all things were made new (Cf. Rev. 21.5), since the fact that a virgin bore a child was itself a new thing. But, if this birth was out of the ordinary, the homage that was offered was also out of the ordinary. At the birth of the Lord, then, shepherds keep watch, angels rejoice, the sun shows reverence, and a star is in attendance. And the angels and the shepherds speak their joy in their own tongues and in words, but the elements, since they have no voice, bear witness to these joys of theirs by their ministry. The sun, consequently, contrary to custom, shone early in the morning on this festival. Nor is this surprising, for if at the prayer of Joshua, the son of Nun, it stood fixed throughout the day (Cf. Jos. 10.12-13), why, at the birth of Jesus Christ, should it not advance hastily in the night?

2. The people, then, call this day “the new sun” and, although they say that it is new, yet they also show that it is old. This world’s sun – which undergoes eclipse, is shut out by walls, and is hidden by clouds – I would call old. I would call old the sun that is subject to vanity, is fearful of corruption (Cf. Rom. 8.20-21), and dreads the judgment. For it is written: The sun will be changed into darkness and the moon into blood (Joel 2.31). Old, indeed, would I call that which is implicated in human crimes, does not flee adulteries, does not turn aside from murder, and, although it does not wish to be in the midst of the human race when some offense is perpetrated, stands here alone amongst all the evil deeds.

Therefore, inasmuch as it has been shown to be old, we have discovered that nothing is new but Christ the Lord, of whom it is written: The sun of justice will rise upon you (Mal. 4.2), and of whom the prophet also says in the person of sinners: The sun has not risen upon us, and the light of justice has not shone upon us (Wisd. 5.6). For, when the whole world was oppressed by the darkness of the devil and the gloom brought on by sin was laying hold of the world, at the last age – that is to say, when night had already fallen – this sun deigned to bring forth the rising of His birth. At first, before the light – that is, before the sun of justice shone – He sent the oracle of the prophets as a kind of dawning, as it is written: I sent my prophets before the light (Jer. 7.25). But afterwards He Himself burst forth with His rays – that is, with the brightness of His apostles – and shed upon the earth a light of truth such that no one would stumble into the devil’s darkness.

This, then, is the new sun that penetrates the places that are shut, unlocks the nether regions, and enters hearts. This is the new sun that, by His Spirit, gives life to what is dead, restores what is decayed, and raises what has already died, and that, by His warmth, cleanses what is filthy, burns away what is weak, and melts away what is wicked. He is, I say, the one who gazes upon all our works in everything that we do and not so much condemns our misdeeds as corrects them. He is clearly the just and wise sun that, like the sun of this world, revolves without prejudice over good and bad alike (Cf. Matt. 5.45) but, by a certain truthful judgment, casts light upon the holy and slays the sinner. And this is the difference between the two suns, that the one fears judgment and the other threatens judgment, that the one is a slave of corruption (Cf. Rom. 8.21) and the other is Lord of eternity, that the one is a creature and the other the Creator.

3. Nonetheless, when day has not yet broken, it is customary, according to human usage arising from need, for a lamp to precede the earth’s sun before it appears. Christ the sun also has His own lamp, which preceded His coming, as the prophet says: I have prepared a lamp for my Christ (Ps. 132.17). What this lamp is the Lord shows when He says of John the Baptist: He was a burning lamp (John 5.35). But John himself, as the small light of the lamp that went ahead, says: Behold, one is coming after me the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire (Luke 3.16). Likewise, realizing that his light was going to be overwhelmed by the rays of the sun, he foretells: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3.30). For, as the brightness of a lamp is done away with by the coming of the sun, so also John’s baptism of repentance (Cf. Mark 1.4) was rendered void when the grace of Christ overtook it.

4. Now let us see from what source this our new sun is born. Indeed, God is the progenitor from whom He arises. The Son, therefore, is divine – of a Divinity, I say, that is incorrupt, whole, and inviolate. I understand clearly that this is a mystery. For this reason his second birth was of the immaculate Mary – because she had been rendered inviolate beforehand by the Divinity{4}, so that the second birth of Him whose first birth was glorious might not be demeaning – that is to say, that just as a virginal Divinity had brought Him forth{5}, so also the virgin Mary would conceive Him.

It is also written that among men He had a father, as we read in the Gospel when the Pharisees say: Is not this the son of Joseph the workman, and is not his mother Mary? (Matt. 13.55). In this also I perceive a mystery. The Father of Christ is called a workman. Clearly God the Father is a workman – He who fashioned the structure of the whole world. Clearly He is a workman who, in the flood, built Noah’s ark with the skill of a workman (Cf. Gen. 6.14-16). He is a workman, I say, who set up Moses’ tent (Cf. Exod. 33.7), constructed the ark of the covenant (Cf. Exod. 25.10-16), and erected Solomon’s temple (Cf. 1 Kings 6). I would call Him a workman who refines unyielding minds, cuts away proud thoughts, and raises humble deeds. This workman also applies the iron to trees, as we read in the Gospel when John says: The axe has already been placed to the roots of the trees. Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matt. 3, 10). All this He does so that in the time to come He may bring together the useful trees of the heavenly workshop, but that the unfruitful ones, which have been pulled up by their roots, He may destroy in a blazing fire{6}.


The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, trans. by B. Ramsey, New York 1989, p. 152-155.


1 Much of §4 recalls Ambrose, Exp. evang. sec. Luc. 3.2. On the feast of Christmas cf. Sermon 60 n. 1.

The extensive use of solar imagery in the present sermon is occasioned by the fact that Christmas is celebrated shortly after the winter solstice. So emphatic is the comparison in §2 between Christ the new sun and the old sun, the heavenly sphere, that we may well see in this sermon a polemic against a sun worship that continued to exist in northern Italy at this period. For a similar polemic, cf. Jerome, Tract, deps. 148.3; Leo the Great, Sermons 22.6 and 27.4. On Christ as the sun in Christian antiquity cf. F. J. Dolger, Solsalutis (Munster 1925). One of the oldest pictorial representations of Christ that we possess is on a late-third-century mosaic from the tomb of the Julii in the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where he appears as Helios, the sun god. On the image of the sun specifically in relation to Christmas cf. Rahner, Myths 145-54.

2 Such a designation for the winter solstice was not unknown to the pagans, quite apart from Christian influence: cf. Ovid, Fasti, 1.163; Censorinus, De die natali 2. I am grateful to Prof. Agnes Michels for these references.

3 Cf. Matt. 2.9. This allusion indicates that, rather than associating the event of the Magi with Epiphany (cf. Sermon 13A n. 1), Maximus does so with Christmas: cf. Sermons 99.3 and 100.1 ad fin.

4 The words in question do not necessarily imply an immaculate conception for Mary. They simply mean that, as the result of a divine gift, she was immaculate before bearing Christ. In fact, Maximus seems to use “immaculate” here exclusively in terms of Mary’s having begotten Christ virginally, as the following lines suggest, rather than in terms of her being completely sinless. On the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception in the patristic era previous to the Council of Ephesus (431), when Maximus was preaching, cf. DTC 7.1.872-93.

5 On the notion of the Father begetting the Son virginally cf. also Gregory of Nyssa, De virg. 2.

6 On the image of God as a workman (faber) cf. Sermon 13A n. 9.