CHRISTMAS (MASS DURING THE DAY)
Is 52:7-10 Heb 1:1-6 Jn 1:1-18 (or 1-5, 9-14).. Jesus the Life and Light of the World. A Contribution to the Meaning of Life.
In the ﬁrst words of his Gospel — “In the beginning” — John echoes the very ﬁrst words of the Bible. In the very beginning, God’s creative words gave life and light. From the very beginning was the one whom John calls “the Word”. “Word” in Greek (the language John was using, for his non-Jewish audience) is Logos, which to those schooled in philosophy meant much more than “word”. It meant everything from “word” to “intellect” all the way‘ to “the meaning of existence”. So John was announcing that in Jesus we ﬁnd the ultimate explanation of the meaning of life.
Our use of the word “word” still shows its importance. In praise of an upright man we say, “He’s a man of his word.” Children, imitating the nobility of old, say, “Word of honour”. When we’re after some deep information, we ask, “What’s the word?”, and there are few condemnations worse than “You can’t take his word for anything.”
In the Jewish Scriptures, a word was far more than just a sound. It was something that was alive, charged with power. The Jewish Scriptures are full of examples of that. In the creation story, for example, at every stage we read “And God said. .. ,” and an aspect of creation came into being. Isaac, having been deceived into giving his words of blessing to Jacob instead of Esau, couldn’t take the blessing back (Gen 27). And the Jews had in their Wisdom literature the concentrated presentations of the words of wise men. Wisdom and the Word are the same: God’s agent for enlightenment.
John saw that “the Word was with God” — not as a single action of the past, but in a continuous, timeless existence. But not only “with God”: “the Word was God” — so that the Word, Jesus, is in the best Note: This homily is for the Mass during the Day. For the Vigil Mass, see Cycle A; for the Midnight Mass, Cycle B; for the Mass at Dawn, see immediately above position to reveal who God is, Sometimes we think that, when Jesus came, he changed God — from angry into loving. But God has always been like Jesus. It isn’t God who’s changed; it’s humankind’s understanding of Him that has changed.
Then (v. 4) John, like a composing artist, enunciates the two themes of his work: life and light. The life is the life of God: the eternal life that God lives, the opposite of destruction, condemnation, and death. Life for human beings isn’t mere existence — even inanimate things exist — but a sharing in the being of God.
The word “life” is frequently on the lips of Jesus. Jesus regrets that people won’t come to him that they might have life (5:40); he asserts that he came that humankind might have life and have it more abundantly (10:10); he says that he’s the way, the truth, and the life ( 14:6). In John’s Gospel, the word “life” occurs more than 35 times, and the verb “to live” or “to have life” more than 15 times more. At the very end of his Gospel, John says that he has written that through belief in Jesus we may have life in his name (20:31).
John’s light is the everlasting light, the timeless light revealed in time, the light manifested in the ﬂesh although hidden by nature, the light that shone around the shepherds and guided the Magi. It’s that light which came into its own people, and they didn’t receive it.
The word “light” occurs in John’s Gospel no fewer than 21 times. He says that Jesus’ light is that which puts the darkness of disorder to ﬂight, like God moving upon the dark chaos and replacing it with the creation of light. Darkness, the antithesis of light, means whatever is in opposition to God. It stands for life without Christ. One of human kind’s oldest fears is fear of the dark — still present in children, but even for adults the world is full of forebodings and threats. No matter how hard the darkness has tried, it hasn’t overcome the light.
Jesus is the true light (v. 9) — different from the lights of the deceptions and illusions that people have followed. Some are only ﬂickers of the truth, others will-o’-the-wisps. Jesus the true light dissipated the shadows of doubt, the blackness of despair, the starkness of death. When the star brought the wise men to the humble cave instead of to a regal palace, God was making a statement about our value system: that it wasn’t His. The tragedy is that, though “the world came to be through him” (v. 10), he came to people who were his own, but they didn’t accept him (v. 11).
The phenomena apply to people of all time. They applied to the Israelites of Isaiah’s time. Isaiah visualized the lonely task of the watchmen of Jerusalem looking out hour after hour, day after day for the least sign on the horizon of the return of their king. He imagined them Seeing God Himself returning to the city to save it and to once again make His people great. He saw the messengers shouting along the mountain ridges, “peace… salvation… Your God is King!” (v. 7), the watchmen repeating the messengers’ cry (v. 8), and all the people breaking out in song (vv. 9f). All of that resounds in other First Testament texts and echoes in the New Testament. God prepares not only the Jewish people for His coming, but every person in this world in one way or another. And to those who accept Him and His values He gives the power to become His children (v. 12).
That brings John to the climax of his hymn, what we celebrate today: the Word made ﬂesh (V. I4). Flesh is all that’s transitory, mortal, imperfect, and at ﬁrst sight seemingly incompatible with God. This is the tremendous mystery of the incarnation, the story that brings the inﬁnite one, the creator, the divine, to the insigniﬁcant town of Bethlehem, where in a smelly stable He became one of us in everything but Sin.
Man’s maker was truly made man — so that the Ruler of the stars was in the thick of life. He came in the most unlikely circumstances. A helpless baby, the child of a poor family, in a subjugated country — all of it doesn’t seem a hopeful seedbed for liberation, redemption, and freedom. He could be hungry and tired from his journeys, and he was accused by false witnesses, evaluated by a mortal judge, beaten with whips, crowned with thorns, suffered, and died. It’s the stuff of life as it’s lived around us.
That’s the depth of the Christmas story. People who don’t understand that don’t understand the goodness of humanity. When God created us, He saw all that He had made and found it very good. Yet down through the centuries there have been those who claimed that one aspect of God’s creation, humanity, is bad. Their position is summed up in the ditty, “Had I been the Deity’s adviser, methinks I might have planned it wiser.”
At the same time as he is human, Jesus is God. The early Christians realized that they couldn’t think of God without thinking of Jesus, that all that the word “God” conveyed found adequate expression in Jesus Christ.
For a time, Jesus “made his dwelling” -— literally, “pitched his tent” —— with humankind. And we saw his glory: Jesus’ whole life was a manifestation of the glory of God as spoken of in the Jewish Scriptures, which indicated the presence of God in the desert during the Exodus, on Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Commandments, over the Tabernacle, and above the Temple. Now this glory was uniquely Jesus’ own. By living among us, Jesus enables us to come to the heart of God. That’s the message of Christmas.
The letter to the Hebrews ratiﬁes John’s ideas. Today’s portion is a Splendid summary of the history of salvation, and a condensed treatment of the mystery of incarnation and redemption. It also makes clear that Jesus alone brings to humankind the full revelation of God. It says that Jesus is superior to the prophets (W. 1—3) and over the angels (W.4-6). He’s the new place where the spoken Word, the dynamic activity of God, is to be found. He’s God’s ikon, the light of God reﬂected in our world. God spoke through the prophets only in fragmentary and varied ways (v. l). Often the prophets were characterized by one idea: Amos for social justice. Isaiah for the holiness of God, Hosea for the forgiving love of God. But no prophet had grasped the entire truth.
Jesus did, and in our time, the ﬁnal period of humankind’s religious history, he’s the one through whom God preeminently speaks. Since Jesus’ redemptiye sacriﬁce, God spoke to‘us through a Son (v. 2). With thoughts similar to John’s Prologue, the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that this Son existed before he appeared as man. No creature, not even an angel, can match the unique dignity of his person (v. 4).
Today, we’ve split the atom, conquered a portion of space, and harnessed nuclear energy, and we play with new kinds of life in test tubes. Yet many people don’t realize our need for the revelation of Jesus. Christ is born to us today in order that he may appear to the whole world through us. The mystery of Christmas lays upon us all a debt to God and an obligation to the rest of humankind. Bethlehem is no longer a hillside cave. It is, rather, every place where we create justice, freedom, and love. We do this not only by preaching the Good News, but by living it and thus revealing Jesus. May your living Jesus and revealing him to those around you through your love give you and yours a blessed Christmas!