Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Word was God

Christmas Mass During the Day 2012

The great Feast and Solemnity of Christ can perhaps be aptly described as the second most important feast in the Church’s Liturgical Calendar after the Great Pasch, the Feast of Easter. Its importance is attested by the liturgy in the three masses celebrated on Christmas Day proper – the Midnight Mass, the Dawn Mass and presently, what we are celebrating now, the Day mass. Christmas Day begins in a very special way with the Midnight Mass. The time corresponds with the traditional belief that Christ was born at midnight. The dramatic darkness of midnight which surround the worshippers who attend that mass also reminds them of the spiritual darkness in the world which only Christ the Light can dispel. The second Mass of Christmas Day is the Mass at dawn, traditionally called the Shepherds' Mass, because it narrates the visit of the shepherds and the first epiphany of the child Jesus to the Jews, as symbolised by this group. The theme of light is also prominent in this Mass. Outside, the natural light is increasing. (We’ve skipped this mass in our parish this year.)

Because the feast of Christmas is so great, the Church does not stop rejoicing after one or even two special Masses. She continues her worship with a third, the Mass of the Day. And so after a marathon of masses, just when you thought you’ve exhausted everything that needs to be said about Christmas, we find ourselves right back at the beginning in this morning’s mass. Not just to the beginning of the Christmas story that took place two millennia ago in Bethlehem, but to the very beginning, before God embarked on the great enterprise of creation. The prologue to the gospel of St John helps us to situate the story of Christmas beyond time and space, before the beginning of the history of man and the universe.

In this Mass, our attention is directed towards the divinity of the Child born in Bethlehem. Whereas the Vigil Mass at midnight of Christmas has as its central theme the humanity of the new born Christ, this Day Mass focuses our attention primarily on our Lord’s divinity. The infant lying in the manger is truly God made flesh. More precisely, he is the Word of God, who comes out from the bosom of the Father from all eternity. This is certainly the crucial dogma of our Catholic faith. All the other mysteries depend for their efficacy in the plan of salvation upon the fact that the son born of the Virgin Mary is truly human in his nature, while being the person of the Son of God.  The second reading refers us back to the Midnight Mass with the passage: "You are my Son, today I have become your father.” The progressive manifestation of Christ continues. From swaddling clothes and a lowly stable we move to might and majesty, throne and sceptre. From the adoration of Mary and Joseph and a few shepherds, we go to the adoration of all the earth.

Let’s get back to the gospel, which is the crown jewel of our readings for this mass. St John does not start the story of Jesus in the usual way as in the case of Ss Matthew and Luke who provide two different versions of his infancy narratives. He says nothing about the way Jesus was born. Rather, he takes us back in time to "the beginning." In the beginning, he says, was "the Word" or ‘logos’ in Greek. To the uninitiated, the "Word" here may seem ambiguous, but it becomes clear in verse 14 that John is talking about a person: "The Word was made flesh, he lived among us." The Word became a human being, a Jew by the name of Jesus. But the Word was also at the beginning, the Word was with God and then John makes this audacious claim, “the Word was God!” Jesus Christ, the child born in the humble stable of Bethlehem and laid in a manger is no ordinary child. He is the Divine Creator-Word, he is the Son of God; he is God.

By using the word ‘Word’ or ‘Logos’, St John was using a term that had rich meaning to Greek and Jewish philosophers. They also believed that God had created everything through his word, or his wisdom. Since God was a rational being, he always had a word with him. The "word" was his power to think — his rationality, his creativity. According to Plato, the world of ideas was more perfect than the material world, which could only provide a poor copy of the former. John takes this idea and gives it a radical twist: The Word became flesh. Something in the realm of the perfect and the eternal became part of the imperfect and decaying world. That was a preposterous idea, people might have said. It is no wonder that John tells us that when the Word came into the world, “the world did not know him. He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI gives us a beautiful reflection which peals away layers of nuanced meanings hidden behind this single line. He says that this rejection by his own people, “refers first and foremost to Bethlehem, the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: He through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received. These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions our lives for ourselves?”

These are questions which we must constantly ask ourselves, especially during this Year of Faith. Many take time away from their busy schedule to be in Church this morning to celebrate Christmas. But do we take time every day of our lives to deepen our faith in the one, whose birthday we celebrate today – the Word made flesh. As St Hippolytus wrote in the early 3rd century, that “our faith is not founded upon empty words; nor are we carried away by mere caprice or beguiled by specious arguments. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the power of God, spoken by the Word himself at God’s command.” Jesus did not just bring a message about God — he himself was the message. He showed us in the flesh what God is like. We are more than just people of the Book as Muslims would claim. We are people of the Word of God, the Word who is, who was and will ever be God. The Year of Faith is not just a call to be acquainted with the words in our Bible or in the Catechism of the Church. We are called to encounter the Word himself, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour – the true light that enlightens all men – a light that shines even in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.

Our celebration today is testimony to the immense beauty of encountering the word of God in the communion of the Church. In listening to the word, may we become one with the Word. Christmas is a call to conversion, to be renewed in our “personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. Indeed, sharing in the life of God, a Trinity of love, is complete joy (cf. 1 Jn 1:4). And it is the Church’s gift and inescapable duty to communicate that joy, born of an encounter with the person of Christ, the Word of God in our midst. In a world which often feels that God is superfluous or extraneous, we confess with Peter that he alone has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).” (Verbum Domini, # 2)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.