Christmas

By   December 14, 2016

Anecdotes: 1) A vision test: Once there was a Rabbi who asked his disciples the following question:  “How do you know when the darkness has been overcome, when the dawn has arrived?”  One of the disciples answered, “When you can look into the distance and tell the difference between a cow and a deer, then you know dawn has arrived.”  “Close,” the Rabbi responded, “but not quite.”  Another disciple ventured a response, “When you can look into the distance and distinguish a peach blossom from an apple blossom, then you know that the darkness has been overcome.”  “Not bad,” the Rabbi said, not bad! But the correct answer is slightly different.  When you can look on the face of any man or any woman and know immediately that this is Gods child and your brother or sister, then you know that the darkness has been overcome, that the Daystar has appeared.”  This Christmas morning when we celebrate the victory of Light over darkness, the Gospel of John introduces Jesus as the true Light Who came from Heaven into our world of darkness to give us clear vision.

2) God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all:  Eight-year-old Benny died of AIDS in 1987. CBS made a movie drama about the trauma called Moving Toward the Light. As Benny lies dying in his mother’s arms, he asks, “What will it be like?” His mother whispers softly in his ear, “You will see a light, Benny, far away — a beautiful, shining light at the end of a long tunnel. And your spirit will lift you out of your body and start to travel toward the light. And as you go, a veil will be lifted from your eyes, and suddenly, you will see everything … but most of all, you will feel a tremendous sense of love.” “Will it take long?” Benny asks. “No,” his mother answers, “not long at all. Like the twinkling of an eye.” Many families have been devastated by AIDS. Amid the darkness and despair, an eight-year-old boy and his mother witnessed to the sustaining power of the light of God’s presence. They have touched the lives of a multitude of people. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5 ).

Introduction: While Matthews genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham, the father of God’s people, and Luke’s genealogy of Jesus’ ancestry goes all the way back to Adam, thus embracing the whole human race, John goes back to God Himself. John is the only Gospel writer who does not stop at Bethlehem to explain the reason for the season.John is more concerned with the WHY and WHO of Christmas than with the WHERE of Christmas. So he travels to eternity to reveal the person of Jesus Christ. This is a great passage because it gives us the theology of Christmas. While the Gospel selections for the Vigil, Midnight and Dawn Masses describe the history of Christmas, the selection from Johns Gospel for this Daytime Mass lifts us out of history into the realm of mysteryHis wonderful Name is the Word. The reading tells us that the Baby in the manger is the Word of God, the very Self-expression of God. He was present at creation; He is actually the One through Whom all things were made. The Prologue to the Gospel of John in todays Gospel, and the Prologue to the Letter to the Hebrews in the second reading, are superb affirmations of the Person of Jesus Christ, expressed in beautiful theological words and metaphors.  The first reading gives us the assurance that, just as Yahweh restored His chosen people to their homeland after the Babylonian exile, Jesus the Savior will restore mankind to the Kingdom of God.  In the second reading, St. Paul tells us how God, Who had conveyed His words to us in the past through His prophets, sent His own Son so that He might  demonstrate to us humans, by His life, death and Resurrection, the real nature of our God.  John’s Gospel gives a profoundly theological vision of Christ, the result of Johns years of preaching and of meditating on this wondrous mystery of God’s love. While stressing the Divinity of Christ, he leaves no doubt as to the reality of his human nature.  In the Prologue of his Gospel, John introduces the birth of Jesus as the dawning of the Light Who will remove the darkness of evil from the world. He explains later in his Gospel why light is the perfect symbol of Christmas:  Jesus said I am the Light of the world,(Jn 8:12) and You are the light of the world(Mt 5: 14-16).

First reading, Isaiah 52:7-10: This prophetic passage dates from the return of the Jews to their homeland at the end of the Babylonian Captivity.  The setting is the desolate city, Jerusalem, awaiting the return of the exiles from Babylon.  The city, personified, is rhetorically called “Zion,” after the hill in its midst where the Temple stood.  Isaiah first imagines that the city can hear, even at a distance, the footsteps of her returning children.  The returnees are pictured as singing exultantly, “Your God is King!”  Then Jerusalem’s sentinels raise the cry of recognition, and join in the praise of God.  Finally, the joyful people declare that all the earth will recognize the hand of God at work in their restoration.  This return to Jerusalem, like the Exodus from Egypt centuries earlier, was a type or a foreshadowing of the greater Redemption that was to come through Jesus the Messiah.  The re-possession of the land of Canaan for a few years; the restoring of Jerusalem and Judah, were but pale shadows of the great restoration and the possession of our eternal promised land which were to be given by the Messiah in the days to come, not only to Israel but to all nations.

Second Reading, Hebrews 1:1-6: The addressees of the Letter to the Hebrews were Christian Jews who were beginning to feel the pain of separation from their fellow Jews who had refused to see Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.  The Christian Jews needed to be reminded that their relationship with Jesus more than filled the gaps in their religious lives caused by the loss of Temple ritual and the like, particularly as they were suffering the temptation to change back to the old law and the Jewish religion because of persecution from Judaizers. In the Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul explains to them how superior the new Covenant is to the old.  The letter begins with a comparison of how God formerly spoke to their ancestors and how God has now definitively spoken to them through Jesus.  These six verses from the Letters first chapter were chosen for today’s reading because of the clear, definite and emphatic declaration of the Divinity of Christ, which they contain.  Paul asserts that the Baby Who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, lived and died in Palestine, rose on the third day from the grave and ascended to heaven forty days later, was also God, equal to the Father in all things.  This is a mystery beyond our human comprehension, yet it is a fact, stated by Christ himself, believed and preached by the Apostles and accepted by the Church for almost two thousand years.  The whole reading is about the superiority of Jesus to everything and everyone else.  Specifically it declares that Jesus is superior to angels.  That Jesus is also, necessarily, superior to the institutions of Judaism from which the Hebrew Christians were cut off and for which they were feeling nostalgic, is  implied in the passage.

Exegesis: The paradox of the Incarnation: John the Evangelist proclaims the Incarnation of God, the most fundamental truth of Christianity, in the inspired words of his Prologue, making the connection between Jesus Christ and the Logos of God.  Between the beautiful Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John, there lies the great paradox of the Christian Faith, the paradox of the Incarnation, the entering of God into the human story, in human form.  The Prologue of John (1:1-18) can be divided into three sections: a) The Word’s relationship to the Creator and Creation (1:1-5), b) The Word’s relationship to John the Baptist (1:6-9) and c) The Word’s relationship to the world (1:10-18).

The theology of the word made flesh: Within thirty years of Jesus’ death the Christian Faith had traveled all over Asia Minor and Greece and had arrived in Rome.  By AD 60, there must have been a hundred thousand Greeks in the Church for every Jew who had become a Christian.  But Jewish ideas like the Messiah, the center of Jewish expectation, were completely strange to the Greeks.  Hence, the very category in which the Jewish Christians conceived and presented Jesus meant nothing to the Greek Christians.  So the problem which John faced was how to present Christianity to the Greek world around him in the Greek city of Ephesus where he lived.  He found that, in both Greek and Jewish thought, there existed the concept of the word.  For the eastern peoples, words had an independent, power-filled existence.  The Greek term for word is Logos which not only means word, but also reason.  Hence, whenever the Greeks used Logos, the twin ideas of the Word of God and the Reason of God were in their minds. That is why John introduces Jesus to the Greeks as the eternal, light-giving and creative power of God, or the Mind of God in poetical prose, in the very beginning of his Gospel.  In his Prologue, John deals with the major themes like the pre-existence of the Word, God/Word and Father/Son as distinct but, at the same time, one; of Jesus as God, Life and Light; of the struggle between Light and darkness; of the power of the Light over darkness.  According to John, the Word of God, Jesus, gives Life and Light.  Thus, Johns Prologue summarizes how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed.  One of the Fathers of the Church (St Irenaeus) once said, Gloria Dei, homo vivens,(the glory of God is a person fully alive).  If that can be said of any of us, how much more must it be true of the Word made flesh?

John the Baptizers role: John the Baptist renewed the prophetic tradition after   Israels four hundred years without a prophet.  Since his ministry was so powerful, some people thought of him as the Messiah.  Hence, Johns Gospel makes a number of references to John the Baptizer, always clearly establishing that he was subordinate to Jesus.  He was not the Light, but came to bear witness to the Light (vv. 7-8).  John’s mission was to bear testimony to the Light (Jesus) — to serve as a witness to the Light (v. 7).  John died as a martyr because he showed the courage of his prophetic convictions by correcting Herod the king for his immoral life.

The Messiah rejected by his own people:He came to what was his own, and His own people did not accept Him(v 11).  Jesus came homewhere the people should have known Him.  And it was the home folk, “His own,” the Israelites, the Chosen People, who did not receive Him.  God had prepared them for centuries to receive the Messiah into their midst, but they rejected Him.  This rejection of the Word by Jesus’ own people is restricted neither to the time of Jesus nor to that of the Fourth Gospel. Much of the world today is still in rebellion, preferring darkness to Light, because its deeds are evil(3:19-20).  That is true of all of us at certain points in our lives, but we are not imprisoned in those moments. We can, as long as we are alive, turn to Him, repentant and believing, and become His own again.  “But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God” (v 12).

The Word became flesh and lived among us (v 14): The Word becoming flesh is the zenith of God’s Self-revelation.  God, Who spoke earlier through the prophets, now speaks through his Son (Heb. 1:1-2), and lives among us.  The Word Who dwelt with God now dwells with us,becoming a human being like us and thus bridging the great chasm between Gods world and our world.  Verse 14 declares that the God Who once dwelt among them in the Tabernacle and the Temple, now chooses to dwell among them in the Person of Jesus.  In the Old Testament, Moses was not allowed to see the face of God.  Now, however, we are allowed to see Jesus’ glory — and His face. Thus, the Father is fully revealed to us, because, “Whoever has seen (the Son) has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  The other Gospels depict the glory of God coming upon Jesus at the Transfiguration.  John does not relate this incident, both because he sees the glory of God in all Jesus says and does, and because the hour for Jesus to be glorified is the crucifixion.

“We have all received, grace upon grace.(v 16):  The Word is full of grace and truth attributes of God attributes that the Word shares with God as the “Father’s only Son” (v 15).  It is from this One Who is full of grace and truththat we receive grace upon grace.”  In other words, we draw grace from the total resources of God, an inexhaustible storehouse.  Regardless of our need for grace, the supply is greater.  Let us imagine ourselves standing on a sea-shore watching the waves roll in.  They come every few seconds, and the supply never fails. That is how Gods grace comes to us. Let us at this Christmas time try to count just some of those gracesshowered on us. Verse 17 identifies the Word as Jesus: “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  The Gift that is the Truth, Jesus, surpasses and perfects the former gift of the Law given through Moses.  Note the contrasts between Moses and Jesus: We received the law through Moses, but we receive grace and truth through Jesus Christ (v 17).  Johns Prologue begins by declaring that that the Word was God (v 1) and concludes (v 18), by proclaiming that the Son is God.  

Life messages: 1) A day to remember and a day to wait for:  Today, while we remember and celebrate Gods first coming into our world in human form, we also look forward because the liturgy we celebrate reminds us that the Lord is going to return in his Second Coming.  However, Christ is going to return, not as a Child but as a Warrior, a Judge, a mighty Savior.  The liturgy calls on us to prepare His way, to be ready to be judged by Him.  So we are looking back and remembering the past coming of Jesus as our Savior, and looking forward and preparing for His future coming in glory as Judge to reward and punish.  In addition to these two comings,the Church teaches us that Christ is here now, Christ is present, Christ comes to us today, Christ comes to us every day.  Christmas is actually a celebration intended to heighten our awareness of the fact that Christ has been born, Christ lives, and Christ is present now in our lives. Christmas reminds us, through the lives of the people in the Christmas narrative, of the importance of helping to bring the presence of Christ to the world around us and of being sensitive to that presence when the Lord comes to us in the least expected people and in unexpected places and situations.  We are asked to welcome Christs kingdom into our lives by allowing Him to be born in us, by recognizing Him in others and by courageously going forth with His grace to build His kingdom of love, justice, peace and holiness in our world.

2) We need to remember that there is no room in the manger except for Jesus and us: There isn’t room in the manger for all the baggage we carry around with us.  There’s no room for our pious pride and self-righteousness.  Theres no room for our human power and prestige.  There’s no room for the baggage of past failure and unforgiven sin.  There’s no room for our prejudice, bigotry and jingoistic national pride.  There’s no room for bitterness and greed.  There is no room in the manger for anything other than the absolute reality of who and what we really are: very human, very real, very fragile, very vulnerable human beings who desperately need the gift of love and grace which God so powerfully desires to give.

JOKE OF THE WEEK

1) It was Christmas Eve in a supermarket and a woman was anxiously picking over the last few remaining turkeys in the hope of finding a large one. In desperation she called over a shop assistant and said “Excuse me. Do these turkeys get any bigger?” “No” he replied, “They’re all dead”.

2) Just before Christmas, an honest politician, a generous lawyer and Santa Claus were riding in the elevator of a very posh hotel. Just before the doors opened they all noticed a $20 bill lying on the floor.  Which one picked it up?
Santa of course, because the other two – an honest politician, a generous lawyer – don’t exist!

3) To avoid offending anybody, the school dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son’s school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman” and–this is a real song–“Suzy Snowflake,” all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology. (Chicago Tribune Magazine, July 28, 1991).