Thursday, December 24, 2015

Get past the words to the Word

Christmas Day 2015

The gospel reading may come as an anti-climax to many well-intentioned and excited Catholics who had to battle fatigue from last night’s revelry, expecting to hear the all too familiar story of the birth of Jesus in a humble stable. But instead we are treated to a profoundly theological treatise. Some may even add with a sigh of exasperation, “Oh No! If the up-in-the-air incomprehensible homilies are bad enough, not the gospel, not that too!” But every Christmas morning, the Church chooses to have the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel read. To those who have gotten over your initial disappointment and shock, and are now ready to give a second change to the reading, pay attention to the beautiful words of this passage. Or better still, get past the words to the Word! Nowhere are the most profound mysteries of the Christian faith expressed more deeply, and yet more simply, than here in this passage. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity; the doctrine of the person of Christ, his dual nature; the work of Christ, by which we are saved; all of these are caught and captured in this passage, and yet never to be fully plumbed in their depth.

And so this passage is perfect for Christmas. And this is definitely a different kind of Christmas story – no angels, no shepherds, no manger, but – the Word. And this Word – Jesus Christ – is spoken into the world and our existence; into the holy night, and into all of our days. For here we find the astonishing, amazing, wonderful truth of what really happened on this day: The eternal God, the Divine Word who created all things, came in the flesh to be our Saviour. There is nothing more profound and mysterious than this.

But how different is this Word from all the words? Is Christ just one word that we hear, day in, day out? We are surrounded by the spoken word, the sung word, the written word – newspapers, soap operas, reality TV, commercials, emails, text messages, blogs, tweets and even lengthy sermons. These days, everyone seems to have something to say, and if only for the sake of saying it, no matter how irrelevant or inconsequential. We are already swamped with words, and our brains have to work so hard to filter out the words that are really important. So many words, so many utterances, so many promises, each promising the world but delivering nothing. Would another word make any difference or would it be redundant?

It is no wonder that one of our favourite carols that would have been sung last night I “Silent Night.” Many probably would say, “Silent Night”? Why? Because usually life is not peaceful and silent, because the idea of silence and heavenly peace sound so wonderful in a world where we are bombarded by noises and words each and every day. In that holy silence, one actually starts to pay attention to what’s really important.  One actually starts to listen to God.
For God has spoken, and this words echoes through time and space.

But there is nothing redundant about the Word we hear today. To the question, ‘what difference does one more word make in my life?’ our answer would be unreservedly, ‘Everything!’ Right from the very first verse, the reader or listener is stunned by the profundity of the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Here we have the incalculable mystery of the Trinity expressed in one simple sentence.

“In the beginning.” Here John is deliberately recalling the opening verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the very beginning of creation, God SPEAKS, and things and all living beings come into existence.  Clearly, St John the Evangelist wishes to impress on us this important point - God created all these things by his powerful Word. But the mystery that John is about to reveal is that this Word is not just an impersonal force but a distinct Person of the Godhead: the Word was not only with God at the very beginning but the “Word was God.” This statement serves to express two important features of our Christian understanding of the Most Holy Trinity. There is a distinction of persons but there is also a sharing of the one nature of God. To many who have rejected both the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Divine Word, as well as the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity that flows from it, would have to either to get around this single line or simply ignore it altogether.

But the prologue is not just a theological statement of the divine person of the Word and his role in creation, but also speaks what this Word has brought to us humankind. He brings both life and light. Without him, we are dead and in the dark. Dead men walking, wandering around in the darkness of our sin-blinded minds. That’s the state of our world. But Christ’s light and life pierces the darkness and illuminates our way, giving light to our souls.

Now we come to the real mystery of Christmas, to what might qualify as the single most profound sentence ever written, one verse that could fill volumes. Here is the mystery of Christmas, in the greatest words your ears will ever hear: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” “And the Word became flesh.” The Incarnation. Theologians, poets and preachers have marvelled over this mystery

One would have expected the first word to be uttered by God in response to man’s sinfulness and infidelity would be that of judgment. But we are surprised. The Word uttered by God is not a harsh word. But instead, it is a word of Love, not just an idea, but Love enfleshed in the person of Christ, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. No, the word God speaks lies in a manger.  The word God speaks rests in the arms of his mother. It is a Word that finally goes to the cross and embraces that reality which all humans are condemned to – suffering and finally death. It is a word of understanding, of accepting and of elevating our human condition a word of mercy. This word is spoken to us, and it remains with us – when we feel weak or discouraged.  When we feel sad.  When we feel like a failure.  When we don’t love ourselves and can’t forgive ourselves. In such moments, remember the child, the enfleshed Word who created the Heavens and the Earth, now lying in arms of a mortal mother. This is the hiddenness of Christmas, that that little baby, born in a manger, the Son of Mary, is the very Son of God, the Saviour of the world, the Creator of the Universe.

That’s the wonder of the Word, not just any words, but THE Word. If one can already experience how one word can lift us up, how words can bring healing and hope, how words can empower us, stir us up, rouse us, can you imagine the power of this Word? Here, is the first Word that defined all things and brought into being all things. Here also is the last Word, the last Word that would fully complete and perfect the old creation with a new one.  Here is the Word that was not content to remain an idea. Here is the Word that became visible and tangible, so that He could restore and heal our relationship with God. Here is the one Word that saved us! If we have doubted that God remains silent to our pleas, our concerns, and our troubles, know this on this Christmas morning, God has spoken. Jesus Christ is that Word!

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