25 December: Christmas Day
Today we celebrate the birth in our world of Jesus Christ, who was with God before all ages. His birth opens for us a new identity as God’s children.
Is 52:7-10. A prophecy describing the joy of the faithful watchmen, when they see the Lord, their Saviour, face to face. The whole world will see the saving work of God.
Heb 1:1-6. The son born of Mary is the eternal Son of the Father, the image of the invisible God, and the one through whom all things were made.
Jn 1:1-18. The opening words of Saint John’s Gospel which describes in sublime terms the eternal nature of the Word who in his incarnation became the source of light and life for all men.
Light shines in darkness (adapted from John Walsh)
For the people of the Old Testament, light and darkness were more than natural phenomena. They tended to associate them often with virtue and wickedness in the community, and also with the day of the Lord’s coming. Indeed, at Qumran on the Dead Sea shoreline, during the life-time of Jesus, light and darkness were seen as two opposing kingdoms, and the sun’s victory over darkness was held to be a symbol of the triumph of faith over the blind pursuit of evil. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” So begins the Bible account of the first creation, and when it was ended, “God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good.”
But this original goodness and justice was to be shattered, because our first parents abused the freedom of will granted them by God, so that once again, as the prophet Isaiah says “darkness came to cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” (Is 60:2), To dispel this darkness, a new creation was needed, and the ideal of goodness and perfection became a living reality, when the light of Christ came into the world. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; for those who lived in a land of deep shadow a light has shone” (Is 9:2). For God, who had created man in his own image and likeness, had now identified with the human race, and by assuming the body of a child in the image of man, had lowered himself and become one of us.)
It has become a tradition to associate snow with Christmas, and when it does come, shrouding everything with its white mantle, a stillness settles over the countryside, especially at night-time. That combination of darkness and stillness was the setting for the first Christmas. As the Book of Wisdom states, “When all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the middle of her course, your almighty Word leaped down from heaven, from your royal throne” (Wis 18:14f). It was as if God was saying a second time, “Let there be light” – let the gloom and darkness, which to such an extent exemplify the fallen and corrupt nature of the human race, be lifted, ushering in a new age of glory to God and peace on earth among all its people. And so an angel of the Lord appeared to some humble shepherds tending their flocks in the enveloping darkness, and the brightness of the Lord shone round them. “Do not be afraid,” the angel reassured them. “Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
We too must listen, listen in the stillness of our hearts, and, like the shepherds, we must hasten, and with eagerness draw near to Christ. “And the shepherds came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” They “found” implies effort on their part; they had to search. But their search was not in vain. “And seeing, they understood the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child.”
We too must search for Christ, hasten to him with eagerness, and in the quiet times of prayer, when we are alone with God, understanding of our need for Christ will come to us. St Augustine says that prior to conceiving Christ in her womb, Mary first conceived him in her heart, spiritually, by her faith. The Church is referred to as the Spouse of Christ; its members called to be sisters and brothers of Christ. It is more difficult, Augustine goes on, to understand that the Church is the Mother of Christ. But this is also true, and it was Christ himself who first gave it that title, when he declared, “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt 12:50). The Church is the Mother of Christ in that, by obedience to the will of the Father, she brings Christ into being in the world. But we, its members, are the Church, and so we can give birth to Christ, become mothers of Christ, in this spiritual way, by doing God’s holy will.
The Rudolf Gospel
Santa’s most popular reindeer by far is Rudolf, the famous red-nosed reindeer, who according to the popular song, had a very shiny nose… Then, as every child knows, one foggy Christmas eve Santa came to say: “Rudolf with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” The story of Rudolf is the story of salvation. It is our story both as individuals and as the human family. In our own case it is not Santa who saves us but the Child Jesus.
To begin with, Rudolf was a misfit. Compared to the image of the ideal reindeer we can say that something was definitely wrong with him. What is more, he was not in any position to help himself. So are we all, misfits, as the Bible tells us. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). Like lost sheep we are not in a position to help ourselves. Rudolf could not help himself. All that his fellow reindeer did was to makes things worse for him. Only one person could help him, Santa, the messenger from heaven.
Today we celebrate the birth of the Messenger from heaven. As we read in today’s gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). He comes to liberate us from the human predicament, our sinfulness. For it is sin that mars and disfigures the beautiful image of God that we all are. Sin turns us into a despicable Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer. But the heavenly Messenger comes, not to take away the red nose but to declare to us the Good News that we are acceptable to God even with the red nose. Rudolf’s red nose was a defect. But Santa chose him precisely on account of that. The heavenly Messenger has the ability to turn the defects and red noses of our tainted humanity into assets for the service of God. Jesus is this heavenly messenger.
What makes the reindeer gospel so poignant is that Santa does not use his magic wand to heal Rudolf of his red nose defect. He let him go on with the red nose even as his chosen reindeer. Certainly Rudolf would have wanted nothing so much as to be a normal reindeer like all the rest. Similarly Jesus does not simply make us good men and women, rather he makes us into people who can use all their strengths and defects to the service and the glory of God. This is the proof to us that it is not by our own will power that we are able to become children of God. It is by God’s grace, by God’s unmerited and unconditional love of us. As God tells St Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
How does the grace of God transform us? God’s grace works two things in us: enlightenment and empowerment. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). God’s truth enlightens us and God grace empowers us. God’s truth enlightens us to see ourselves and our world in a new light. It is a word that brings reassurance, affirmation and hope. You can imagine how Rudolf felt when he heard the words of Santa, “Rudolf with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” That is why we call it the Good News. It is news that is liberating and empowering. It empowers us by changing our former disposition of insecurity, despair and hopelessness into that of blessed assurance, new hope and enthusiasm in the Lord’s service.
Like Rudolf before Santa, let us today listen to the Message that the Child Jesus brings us, let us commit ourselves into his service without looking back, even when we do not know where the journey will lead us, knowing one thing for sure: that the grace of God will supply the strength we need for the long journey of faith ahead. “For to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12).
First Reading: Book of Isaiah 52:7-10
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Gospel: John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
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 to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And 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. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.