DECEMBER 25, 2009, CHRISTMAS DAY: JOHN 1:1-18

 

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, AND THE WORD WAS GOD, AND THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH.  These words from today’s gospel are the heart of the Christmas message. This brief announcement comes to us this day of celebration and joy as freshly as on the day they were first recorded by the apostle John, the dearest friend of the Lord Jesus. They impart the good news that accounts for the English term ‘gospel’ that we apply to the accounts of our Lord’s life and teaching and justify the English word ‘gospel’, which in Old English means ‘good news’. All three readings convey to us each in a distinctive manner, the best of all news, namely that God so loves us that he gives his only son to become one of us as a member of our race on this planet earth. He does so, John goes on to tell us in a subsequent passage, that we might have eternal life. (3:16)

 

This message is not only a source of rejoicing and encouragement, however; it also comes to us as a subtly posed challenge, subtle, that is, in its expression that takes the form of an infant, and supremely challenging in its hidden significance. For the good news it brings is that God himself comes to us in the flesh in order to undertake a great work that will, as the angel’s words clearly implied, entail sorrow and suffering. The angel who first announced to Mary that she was to bear a son, made it clear to her that this child was to be charged with an arduous, even dangerous task, for he is born in order to redeem a sinful people. The very name she was to give him emphasized this role: Jesus means ‘Savior’. He saves from sin and its consequences’.

 

Forty days after the birth of this Savior Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared to his parents that he would be the cause of the rise and the fall of many, and that May’s soul would be pierced by the sword of suffering. The challenge we are confronted with then at the birth of this Savior who is Jesus invites us so to celebrate this birth for the right reason. To welcome this child into our life today is to accept to accompany him on his return to the Father. The cause of our Christmas joy is of a different nature than worldly celebrations. We are challenged so to take into our heart the newborn Savior as to prepare our self for accompany him in life in the same spirit that he followed. In our society today for many, Christmas is but an occasion for a happy reunion of family and friends in a festive setting.

 

The true significance of this celebration is increasingly unrecognized or only vaguely adverted to, by large portions of our people. We who are given the precious gift of faith that in Jesus’ the Word of God, one with the Father in the Holy Spirit comes among us because God loves us and seeks to give us a share in his eternal life even at the cost of suffering and humiliation of his beloved Son. He comes, as John tells us in today’s gospel, as a light into a world lost in the darkness. This darkness afflicts the human spirit and affects our judgment and our desires; it consists in an ignorance of the true good for which we have been created, the loving knowledge of God.

 

Lack of appreciation of this destined purpose of our human life causes us to be more susceptible to the attractions of this world and, as we yield to them in our choices and activities, we lose the taste for the heavenly realities that our Savior reveals to us by his person and teaching. Not only our taste for the realities of the spirit gradually diminishes but our understanding grows dull so that we no longer see clearly into the hidden mysteries of the invisible world that, nevertheless envelopes our world of the bodily senses. Thus we come to inhabit the shadowy realm of the purely material cosmos. This state of things, this spiritual blindness is the darkness into which the Word of God descends by taking on flesh and dwelling among us. He himself is the light of the world, so that if we would attain to true life we must open the eyes of our spirit to behold him, our leader and guide.

 

That this light now shines upon us as Mary brings the Savior to birth is the source of our rejoicing and the reason of Christmas cheer. Christmas is the end of a long awaited expectation that is the theme of the Advent season we have just passed through. The birth of Christ Jesus is not only an end of a long wait; more importantly his birth marks a new beginning. The fresh life that appears in the child of Mary is a seed that bears within this infant all the energy and virtual forces, replete with a hidden intelligence, of a truly new creation. The Virgin birth is full of meaning for it represents the appearance among us of this creative process, embodied in this seemingly helpless infant, who represents the beginning of the new, definitive creation. With his appearance in the form of an infant child, the laws of nature are no longer to confine the human spirit within a world destined for eventual destruction and death. In Jesus God himself lives among us and begins the great work of opening to persons of good will intimate access to the living God. In doing so this new-born infant gives fresh meaning to our mortal life. To the whole of our striving, our entire being is assigned the task of preparing our self for intimate sharing in the world where God is all in all. We are so to undertake the opportunities afforded us by the appearance of this child as to cultivate our taste for the things of the spirit, and to sharpen our interior vision to be capable of discerning the divinizing light that is a reflection of God himself. By the energy of grace offered us in this birth of the Savior we are brought into the process of a radical transformation of our inmost self that makes of us true children of the light and full citizens of the city of God.    

 

Our Christmas Eucharist celebrates this new life that appears in our midst and offers itself to each of us in this sacrament of the body and blood of the living and glorified Savior. May we resolve to accept the opportunity it offers us so that we are strengthened by the joy and grace of Christmas to accept its challenge to become in truth, children of the light. This divine light is now present among us to enable us to live as members of the family of God. Such is the meaning and grace of Christmas. &


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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