Christmas Day – Readings

Commentary on Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18

The magnificent passage read today is from the opening of John’s Gospel. There is no mention of Bethlehem, of Mary, of shepherds, or the stable and the manger, so why do we read this Gospel for Christmas Day?

The Bethlehem story was told during last night’s Midnight Mass (or during the evening mass at some parishes). But today, we are, as it were, going behind the scenes, and looking at the deeper meaning of that story. After all, who is that little baby, so small, so helpless? And why do we make such a fuss about his birth?

He is the Word of God. From the beginning he was with God and was God. Think of those extraordinary words as you gaze at the stable or the crib.

Through the Word, God expresses his very self, just as in an analogous way we reveal ourselves through the way we speak and what we say (and sometimes we reveal just as much by what we do not say!). But God’s Word does not just communicate; God’s Word is active – it is a verb rather than a noun. It makes, it produces, it creates.

Again, in an analogous way we can speak of the “word” of Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the “word” of Shakespeare in Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, or the “word” of Beethoven in the Fifth Symphony – all these do far more than express ideas, they have a powerful impact in changing us. So through this Word “all things came to be”. To this Word, we and our whole world owe our very existence.

Light in darkness
At this time our city and homes are filled with light, guiding us through the dark valleys of our lives. It is no coincidence that Christmas is celebrated in the depth of winter, just after the winter solstice, as we look forward in hope to the longer days of light and the new life ready to burst forth. Jesus will say later that he is “the Light of the world”. Today’s Gospel says that the Light shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overpower it. It is in this hope that we long to see the darkness of our world put to flight. Alas:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

But nevertheless:

…the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

It does not say the Word became a human being, but “flesh” (Greek, sarx). In John’s language, “flesh” refers to all that is weak and sinful in our human nature.

The Word came and was fully inserted into that world. ‘World’ has two meanings in John’s writings. It means, first of all, the world in general, our planet and all that is in it. But it also refers to that part of our human world which is caught up in all that is evil, negative, degrading and dehumanising. The Word entered both of these worlds. He did not live on the fringe, but in the very centre of human activity. This caused difficulties for some religious people who found it disturbing that Jesus mixed with sinners and (even worse) ate with them. All this is being said in the Bethlehem story, but in more concrete, image-filled language.

In touch with God
As the letter to the Hebrews (Second Reading) tells us today, God in the past spoke to us through many prophets and other spokespersons. But now, because the Son is the Word of God:

…he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things…

This Son:

…is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…

In seeing all that Jesus says and does, we are being put in touch with the very nature of God. Born in utter simplicity, without many of the conveniences of life that we would take for granted and regard as essential, away from home, rejected by every place of shelter in the town, visited by ‘shepherds’ who were the despised outcasts of their day. A good exercise would be to think of the birth of Jesus in a corresponding situation in our city today.

It is important to be aware that this scene is not just for pious contemplation – it contains a message. God has become a human person like us – he has come to live and work among us. He has entered our world to bless it and to liberate all those enslaved by oppression, by hunger and homelessness, people enslaved by addictive habits and substances, enslaved by fear, anger, resentment, hatred, loneliness…

Let us pray that we may approach this Child to be liberated from our particular enslavement, because we are all slaves to something!

But, more than that, as brothers and sister of Jesus, we are called to work together with him, to help others break the chains of their enslavements, so that, in the words of Isaiah today:

…all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Comments Off on Christmas Day – Readings

Printed from LivingSpace - part of Sacred Space
Copyright © 2024 Sacred Space :: :: All rights reserved.