The Word in the Eucharist: Christmas Day
It’s a strange Gospel for Christmas, isn’t it? Where are the familiar Christmas figures -the shepherds, the manger, Mary and Joseph and the child? Instead, we have heard about abstractions: light and darkness, the word becoming flesh.
Let’s start with another word: incarnation. It means taking on flesh, embodiment. Children are the incarnation of their parents’ love. And Jesus is the incarnation of God. We cannot see God. Jesus shows us what God is like. That is why we call him God’s word. A word is used to communicate. Jesus is God’s word because he is God’s communication to us: not a lifeless abstract statement, but God’s living and breathing utterance and self-disclosure. When we listen to Jesus, we hear God speaking to us. When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like... Even as a baby, Jesus is God’s personal word and communication to us. In the words of our second reading, he is the reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s beingToday we celebrate a mystery so wonderful that even the angels can’t praise it enough. For all eternity we’ll rejoice more and more in what God did for us on the first Christmas.
The three Christmas Masses -midnight, daybreak and (this) daytime- are a kind of serial repetition of what happened on the first Christmas. At midnight Mass, the Gospel tells how Jesus the Savior, Messiah and Lord, was born in a stable and laid in a manger. The angels rushed to the shepherds, gave them the good news, and sang their hearts out about what the Lod had done. But even they must have felt tongue-tied. How to praise such a wonder as God becoming less than themselves, God for love of man becoming one of us! So the angels sing a new song, the Song of the Incarnation.At the dawn Mass, the Gospel describes the shepherds rushing to the hill-town of Bethlehem to find the Child, and worshipping him, their Messiah and Lord, who had been promised for so long. The readings and prayers of third mass (daytime) review the whole mystery of Christmas and its meaning. The Gospel shows us the most difficult part to understand.
Christmas means that God’s prophecies and promises have been finally fulfilled. In the first reading, Isaiah foretold what would happen: The Lord himself would come to redeem us. And so in the responsorial psalm we’re invited to sing the new song, the song the angels sang on Christmas night. The second reading tells that the Son of God -through Mary- came to save every one of us, to bring his salvation to the ends of the earth. He became man, so that we could be reborn as children of God. He shared our weakness to give us a part in his glory and kingdom.
And now comes the hard part: In today’s Gospel we’re invited to elevate our minds and hearts to him, who came down to us by becoming man. In the beginning ... and the Word became flesh. Let’s try to grasp why John calls him “The Word”. What is a word? It’s a sound we produce through our lips or write with a set of letters. We use words to communicate with others. A word is immaterial before it is embodied in sounds or letters. A word is really a spiritual reality that contains a perception, a nature, an experience. We even speak of conceiving a thought, or generating ideas, as though we were talking about having spiritual children. St. John is telling us that God conceived or generated an image of himself. Since God is a pure Spirit, that likeness of himself is just like him, pure Spirit, and it’s everything he is except to be Father. It is his Son. But to distinguish him from a human child, he is called The Word. He is true God of true God, fathered, not made. This Child of God is neither a man nor awoman, but a Divine Being.
And when we have a spiritual word to communicate, we give it a body. We flesh it out in sounds or letters. So, too, God gave his Divine Word a body of flesh --human nature-- in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Jesus, who is everything God is, became everything we are in the womb of his Mother. And, by the mysteries of our faith, he calls us to share what he is as God. We can never be God, but we can participate in his divinity.
In the Holy Communion we have the very Child of God and Mary, grown up, risen from the dead, giving himself to us to be our Life. Truly, Jesus is the Father’s best Christmas present to us all. Merry Christmas!