Monday, December 24, 2018

True God of true God

Christmas Day 2018

Considered to be one of the most widely sung Christmas carols (technically it is a hymn) and a vastly popular one, is “Adeste Fidelis” or better known by its English title, “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Unlike so many other hymns and carols, this was originally written in the 18th century (in Latin, nonetheless) by an English Catholic layman, John Francis Wade, who lived in exile in Douai, France, when Catholicism was proscribed in the English Isles. Eventually, this hymn found its way back to the English shores and was translated by an Anglican clergyman, Frederick Oakley, into our English text. Eventually, Oakley was received into the Catholic Church in 1845. The lyrics he wrote into the start of this hymn, may reflect his own personal faith journey into the Catholic Church, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

The original Latin text consisted of four stanzas. The first calls us to visualise anew the infant Jesus in Bethlehem’s stable. The second stanza is usually omitted in most hymnals, but it reminds us that the Christ-child is the very God Himself. The next stanza pictures for us the exalted song of the angelic choir heard by the lowly shepherds. Then the final verse offers praise and adoration to the Word, our Lord, who was with the Father from the beginning of time. But it is to the usually omitted and unjustly ignored second stanza that I wish to draw your attention to:
True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created.
O come, let us adore Him.

This verse identifies the true subject of this hymn, the object of our devotion and adoration is none other than the one who is “True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal … Son of the Father, begotten, not created.” The beautiful and theologically profound words of this second stanza is what we proclaim at every Sunday mass whenever we recite the Nicene Creed and it is at the heart of what today’s Gospel solemnly proclaims. The beginning of St John’s Gospel is exceptionally poetic in its language. John establishes the divine origin of Jesus and then, he moves into the human origin of Jesus. But again, he does not tell a story as do St Matthew and St Luke. Whereas the gospel of St Luke, which we heard last night, takes us back to the beginning of Jesus's earthly life, St John in this morning’s text takes us not so much back in time as into eternity. He shows us the eternal relationship of the Word to the Father; he grants us, in other words, a glimpse of the very life of God, a glimpse of heaven.

First St John raises our minds to the awesome divine majesty of the Word of God. The Word is not just an instrument of creation, He is the creator. He is truly the eternal God, the creator of heaven and earth. Having raised our minds and hearts to reflect on the sublime glory of the Word of God, John then brings us down to earth. In the middle of granting us this glimpse of heaven, John also takes us into the human history of Jesus. He tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. Almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth, has become a creature. Now He is forever part of the human race, forever committed to us. God could not have paid us humans a greater compliment than by becoming one of us. That should bring us up with a jolt! This should wake us up to the reality we celebrate today. This child born in Bethlehem who grew up to be a man, who was executed on a cross and rose again on the third day, was no ordinary man. This particular child is the perfect revelation of divine love.  Indeed, this text should remind us that in the earthly life of Jesus, we see the eternal life of God. 

John shows us that Creation is not an event of the past, but the ongoing life of God with His people. He who is all-powerful, upon whom everything depends for its very existence, became a baby, dependent upon his creatures for his basic needs. Almighty God made himself weak and vulnerable to our love or our rejection. In Jesus the unapproachable God of majesty and glory could be embraced with love or nailed to a cross. Of course, that is what the last stanza of our carol is proclaiming and what Christmas is: “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”  We cannot begin to appreciate the wonder of Christmas if we forget that the babe born at Bethlehem never ceased to be almighty God. That's why we adore baby Jesus.

Now that the Word has taken flesh and has dwelt among us, what should be our proper response? John then tells us that the Word incarnate came among His own people but they didn't welcome Him. Sadly, today many people are equally guilty of this. We are excited over the festivities of Christmas but seldom really interested in the birth of Christ. For many, Christmas has been reduced to an annual sentimental event shorn of any religious significance. He means little or nothing to them. Christmas festivities without Jesus become meaningless opportunities to have a good time, without celebrating anything in particular.

So, why do we celebrate Christmas? It is more than the birth of a great hero or prophet or leader or an excuse to party. Such an understanding of the significance of Christmas is not just severely impoverished but also grossly false. Christmas is no less than a celebration of God with us: Emmanuel!

Last night, many would have come for the night mass (thankfully it is no longer called the Midnight mass because of common practice of celebrating it at any time after dusk due to timing constraints) and would have made their way downstairs to worship the Christ-child in the crèche. You can still do so today and throughout the Christmas season. There was a tradition in the construction of the Nativity scene to depict St Joseph as having taken off his shoes, not because his feet were sore, but in remembrance of Moses doing something similar. When Moses was instructed to take off his shoes, it was a sign of reverence for God as He revealed himself in the burning bush, and promised to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt. Joseph, like Moses, realised that he was on ground made holy by Almighty God's saving presence - in the babe in the manger. This was no ordinary child that he agreed to foster. This is the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh. That is why the beautiful hymn “Come All Ye Faithful” is exhorting us to come and offer our worship to the one who truly deserves our worship – Jesus Christ our Lord, the Son of God, the Splendour of the Father, Our Saviour and Redeemer, “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” “O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!”

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.