Christmas Day 2018

Theme: He is our Light

Whenever you have a chance, watch an expectant woman who is about to give birth. Though quite pregnant, she will be smiling pleasantly as she winces against the pain that accompanies everything. Rarely will she walk carelessly; instead a package with personal clean contents will be nearby ready for any eventuality. The reason of her joy is very simple, she is about to give a child to the light. When Christians world over celebrate any mother willing to gave birth; it should remind us of Jesus Christ, word made fresh who came to dwell among us. By virtue of God’s presence, all darkness that had previously threatened to overwhelm humankind was eliminated.  Through Jesus, light has come to birth, the stranglehold of night has been broken.

First reading: Isaiah 52:7-10

On certain occasions in the ancient world, the bearer of good news was crowned a hero as it is portrayed in today’s first reading. Today’s text envisages the joy and hope of the people on hearing of their release from exile and their imminent homecoming. Written in the sixth century B.C. by a prophet Isaiah, these verses give us a glimpse of the ‘phoenix quality’ of Israel’s hope, a quality originating entirely from God’s sustaining love and provident care.

During exile which lasted generations, Israel’s beloved capital city of Jerusalem had remained in ruins to act as a bleak witness to the political and military might of its Babylonian conquerors. For generations, the elite of Israel’s populace had been degraded, displaced in a strange land where they had no rights of proprietorship or freedom to pray and worship as was their custom. During that time of imprisonment, a liberating enlightenment gradually came to surface through a prophet who foresaw the end the eminent oppression and helped to interpret all that had happened to them; both good and bad as a part of God’s message of salvation and justice. Hence the event of Israel’s return from exile was truly a Gospel-glad tiding. Not only what God had said to his people, in spoken or in written words, but what he had been and how he had acted within the realm of their history enabled his people to know him as redeemer and saving God.

Second reading: Hebrews 1:1-6

This text from letter to Hebrews recall in our hearing the blessings that accrues to those who are privileged to call Jesus both Brother and Lord. Blessed are we with grace and salvation, the cleansing of baptism and the hope of everlasting life. Blessed are we with new birth and renewal in the Spirit. Blessed are we who are witnesses to God’s faithfulness and love.  Blessed are we to whom God has spoken and continues to speak, through Jesus, the Word made flesh.

In a sort of ‘before-and-after’ or ‘then-and-now’ comparison, the letter to Hebrews articulated the differences between the revelation of the old and new covenants. Our reading today comprises the introduction of his work which can readily be compared to the prologue of John’s Gospel. In both texts, the image is one of Christ’s divinity and equality with God. In the first paragraph the text speaks of superior revelation which God has spoken in Jesus Christ. Unlike the piecemeal and fragmentary revelation of the Old Testament which had to be interpreted by the prophets, the revelation in Jesus is whole and entire, living and absolute. Christ is God’s last word to the world; revelation in him is final and homogeneous. The word of God in Jesus is “living and active” Hebrews 4:12. This Word is ever new and in the process of communicating to believers the love and care of God. His becoming flesh is the basis for our celebration today.

Besides asserting Christ’s superiority to prophets; Hebrews also underscores His predominance over the angels. As refulgence/reflection apaugasma and as the exact representation character/eikon of the Father’s being, Christ is placed on a par with wisdom cf. Wisdom 7:26. This equating places him on a level which is above the angelic hosts that have been present at creation and who were granted by God a role in its government. In the Old Testament these angelic beings are called sons and logos of God, meaning WORD. It is with these prevalent notions that the letter to Hebrews is resolute to establishing Christ’s transcendence and divinity. In our times we know of angels as mediators and messengers between God and humankind, but Christ is superior to angels.

Gospel: John 1:1-18

Christmas’ Gospels proclaimed by John, Luke and Matthew, put us in touch with the special narratives of Jesus’ origins, both human and divine. Born of Mary and under Joseph’s care, Jesus is a Son of God.  He is Emmanuel/God-with-us, the Word who was from the beginning in God’s presence and the Word who is God. Through his becoming flesh and by virtue of his dwelling among us, we are privileged to see God’s glory. This word is a commitment, an enterprise by means of which the author embraces our age. This apt explanation of incarnation is the central thought of the Gospel. In speaking flesh of his word in the person and event of Jesus Christ, God has committed himself to humankind and to the world in an eternal embrace.

Up until Vatican II, today’s Gospel text was proclaimed at the end of every Eucharist, thereby earning for itself the misnomer ‘last Gospel’. Though this practice has been discontinued, it did serve the purpose of climaxing every celebration with the compelling and beautiful truth of the incarnation. This prologue pericope that sounds like a hymn introduces the whole Gospel by serving a dual function: First, it provides for the words and works of the Incarnate Word an eternal origin and proclaims as false the theories against Jesus’ divinity prevalent during the first century of Christianity. Secondly, it serves as an overture to the Gospel, containing a summary of its major themes as well as a means of interpreting Jesus’ message and person. In true semitic style, the text begins with a genealogy; however, unlike that in Matthew, it traces Jesus’ origins to the eternal divinity. The phrase ‘In the beginning’ is a deliberate reference to Genesis 1:1 which is creation of the universe by God’s word. In John 1:1 that creative word is speaking again, but no longer as creator to created. The word who speaks a new creation has become a part of creation itself by that very utterance.

Word continues to speak within human history cf. John 1:11. Those who hear and truly listen become sons and daughters of God. When we read that ‘the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’,  we draw together all the Old Testament references to God’s presence with his people, in the cloud, in fire, through the prophets, in his glory, by his law cf. Exodus 24; 33:18. The same root of ‘the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ lends itself to God’s presence in nature ‘shekinah’ meaning, He pitched his tent among us. In former times God was so close, yet separate; He lived with people but was not one of them. There came a time when He could no longer tolerate this separation, then, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus had a lot to learn about his new relatives. He felt deeply their pain; he was stung by their hostility and hurt by their misunderstanding. He was annoyed by the Pharisees, angered by their hypocrisy. Once in a while Jesus laughed; sometimes he was driven to tears. He even had to ask his closest friend Peter if he really loved him three times. In his early appearance, the Son of God had no room in the guest house and wondered if his Father had forgotten that he had sent him on earth. The summary of his earthly life is: Jesus came into the world he had made and the world treated him as a stranger; he came to his own and they rejected him. All the same, the Good News of Christmas is that ‘his love has become our love’ and his life has become our life. God became human so that humanity could become divine. We have come a long way from a baby in a manger to a Jesus trying to tell us something that God has accepted to become human. By his birth he tells us that life is good; by choosing to live in our world he tells us that our world is good; by becoming one of us he tells us that people are good.

Application

Christmas is the perfect time to love and be loved. The mood is friendly; spirits are welcoming, even when God is most vulnerable in the form of a baby. You may never get a better chance to feel God’s love like this. Just take the opportunity of this Christmas to convert and believe that this mystery of incarnation is here for you and me. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


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