Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; Letter to the Hebrews 1:1-6; Gospel of Saint John 1:1-18
The scripture readings assigned for the Mass of Christmas day emphasize an attitude of child-like wonder at all that is taking place. In the text from the prophet Isaiah, the city of Jerusalem, once ruined and barren at the hands of foreign invaders, begins to rise from the rubble. Isaiah describes exiled Hebrews, once in sorrow, now jubilant in being allowed back home and able to move about peacefully in their holy city once again. The attitude of the chosen people of God can only be one of wonder and joy at what God was accomplishing on their behalf, bringing them from sorrow to unbounded rejoicing.
These are indeed great and wonderful things, but greater still is what the Letter to the Hebrews, the second reading of the Christmas day Mass, describes. The anonymous author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that in past times God spoke only partially to the people through the prophets, such as Isaiah, but now, in this final age, God speaks completely and definitively through the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who was sent to fulfill the plan God, salvation for the human race, that all might be redeemed in Christ.
This wonderful occurrence too brings about wonder at how much God loves the world, going so far as re-creating it according to his image. God becomes part of time and space so that those who are bound by time, every human being, might be able to transcend time and partake of divine life forever.
We see and know all too well that the world we inhabit, even after the coming of Christ, appears to be broken and scattered, fragmented and much in need of healing and wholeness. Though partakers in glory, we human beings continue to stray and sin, being in constant need of the redeeming power of God. This is a result of original sin. It is the paradox of life that we are frail and fallen creatures, yet invited and transported to redemption in Jesus Christ.
To assist in the journey from brokenness to wholeness in Christ, we are greatly helped in the Church, especially by the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Reconciliation. Broken humanity can be made whole, by the grace of God given now and perfected in the life we await beyond the grave, the risen life in the risen Savior, who is the embodiment of the wisdom of God. That is what our Christmas celebration is all about: the amazing fact of God taking on our flesh to raise all flesh to a new dimension as sons and daughters redeemed by God.
The Gospel passage from Saint John is a rich theological statement about the Word of God, being present with and in God, even before the creation of the world. What Jesus the Word became at the moment of his birth he already was from eternity, namely, fully united with God without losing any of his greatness by becoming man. “He was in the world,” says Saint John, “and through him the world was made, yet the world did not know who he was.”
We are in a privileged position for we know who Jesus Christ is, the Light and Hope of the world, who continues to shine even when ignored, scorned or rejected. This light, Christ, shines in our broken world and hearts, even now. Saint John goes on to say that “We have all had a share of love following upon love,” that is, a share in goodness untied with goodness, offering us a life that cannot be taken away, but only increased and deepened by our choices for God and the Kingdom.
What we celebrate at Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is brought to completion in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, expressed frequently in Sacred Scripture by the phrase, “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (see Psalm 109:1; Acts 2:34-36; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:11; First Peter 3:22).
Consequently, Christ is superior to the angels (see Philippians 2:6-11), who likewise bow in wonder at the Word made flesh, Jesus who is the perfect Mediator between God and man and the Savior of all people.
The Nativity of Jesus anticipates his enthronement as King of kings. As the pre-existing Word of God, Jesus Christ is adored by humans and angels, who are in amazement at the extent of the love of God.
On Christmas day we especially think of those around the newborn King, first of all Mary and Joseph, of course, but also shepherds from the nearby fields. These were the first to receive the infant Messiah. We no less than they are lovingly invited to receive Christ in faith, especially in his Body and Blood in the humble form of bread and wine.
The flesh of Jesus is the new Tabernacle where the glory of God resides forever, the Throne of Kindness, far surpassing the presence of God in the old sanctuary made with hands, described in the Book of Exodus, chapter forty. The new sanctuary and tabernacle, Christ the Lord, is no mere symbol of the presence of God, but the reality of God made visible, Emmanuel, and “We behold his glory” (First Letter of Saint John 1:1).
Since God is love (see First Letter of Saint John 4:8), the whole life of Christ is a continuous act of love and self-giving, manifesting to the ends of the earth the glory of God. To this reality we look with wonder and amazement; to it we willing run, since there we find all the desire of our heart once and for all.
May the Christmas mystery we celebrate be the basis of our hope of future glory. Here and now we meet the living God who has stooped down to us to raise us to a share in divine life.
Merry Christmas to all.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB