Dec. 26, 2010:
By Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
The message of Christmas takes our breath away every year and continues to stagger the imagination: the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the only begotten Son of the Father, the eternal Word, our Creator, wills to clothe himself in our nature, and to become man, our brother, one of us! God himself lies in the manger, completely human, completely divine. It is an awesome reality!
The second reading for Christmas Mass during the day (Hebrews 1:1-6) opens with a reflection on the climax of God’s revelation to the human race in his Son. The divine communication was initiated and maintained during Old Testament times in fragmentary and varied ways through the prophets. But now in these last days (v. 2) the final age, God’s revelation of his saving purpose is achieved through a son, i.e., one who is Son, whose role is redeemer and mediator of creation. He was made heir of all things through his death and exaltation to glory, yet he existed before he appeared as man; through him God created the universe. The once-humiliated and crucified Jesus has been declared God’s Son, and this name shows his superiority to the angels.
Divine camping in our midst
John’s Prologue (1:1-18) states the main themes of the fourth gospel: life, light, truth, the world, testimony, and the preexistence of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos, who reveals God the Father. In origin, the Prologue was probably an early Christian hymn. Its closest parallel is in other Christological hymns, Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:6-11. It’s core is poetic in structure, with short phrases linked by “staircase parallelism,” in which the last word of one phrase becomes the first word of the next.
“In the beginning” evokes the first words of the Old Testament (Genesis 1:1). The Word (Greek logos) combines God’s dynamic, creative word (Genesis), personified pre-existent Wisdom as the instrument of God’s creative activity (Proverbs), and the ultimate intelligibility of reality (Hellenistic philosophy).
The prologue climaxes with the announcement: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (v. 14) (in Greek literally: pitched his tent among us). It’s a form of divine camping in our midst! This presence came about though the free love of God: “In this way the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). The Word is not simply a message that we can put into words. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are united. The medium is indeed the message!
In his apostolic exhortation “Verbum Domini”, that followed the 2008 Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Benedict XVI writes in #11: “We are speaking of an unprecedented and humanly inconceivable novelty: ‘the word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14a). These words are no figure of speech; they point to a lived experience! St. John, an eyewitness, tells us so: ‘We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (1:14b). The apostolic faith testifies that the eternal Word became one of us. The divine Word is truly expressed in human words.”
God does not love at a distance
The Christmas message announces a new divine presence among us. Each day of our lives we seek the personal presence of those whom we care for and who care about us. We cannot imagine leaving friendship and love at a distance. Photographs, memories, letters, e-mails, text messages and phone calls are not enough. We want to enjoy the personal presence of those who fill our minds and let us live in their hearts. We live in God’s heart, and Christmas visibly brought among us the Son of God who cares infinitely for each of us. God did not want to live that love at a distance.
Every Eucharist proclaims, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Because the life of Christ is oriented toward others, the Church must share this life with the world. The Life of Christ is his gift to the Church that is meant to be the Church’s gift to the world. In the Eucharist we don’t only receive the life of Christ. Beholding this most precious gift, we are moved as well to worship and adore the Triune God.
The Word did not become an e-mail, an SMS or text message, or some kind of divine oracle uttered from some distant heaven long ago. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real people in real time. Through the wonder and mystery of the Incarnation, the Word did not become a philosophy, a theory, or a concept to be discussed, debated, exegeted or pondered. But the Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! Our redemption is found in the Child of Bethlehem.
God’s communication platform is the human person and Christmas inaugurates a completely new kind of real friendship with God. Friendship in virtual spaces is quite different from real time friendship. True friendship depends on mutual revelations, and can only flourish within the boundaries of privacy and modesty. The distance and abstraction of our online friendships and online relationships can lead to a kind of systemic desensitization as a culture if we are not wise, prudent and attentive to these new realities. Along with the increase in online networking, there are increasing levels of reported loneliness. Certain questions arise from the phenomenon of Social Networking. What is it doing for us? What is it doing to us? What is it doing to our sense of social boundaries? To our sense of individuality? To our friendships? We expose everything, but are we feeling anything?
The great challenge in the era of Facebook and Twitter consists in presenting the profound message of Jesus and the teaching of the Church without being sidetracked by technology’s superficial aspects. An almost exclusive use of text and emails means that as a society we’re losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that’s necessary for living together and building a community. In using the media to evangelize and teach the masses, we must never lose sight of the need to reach and teach the individual as though he or she were the only person being addressed.
Enigma of the human condition
At Christmas, let us recall the words of Benedict XVI in his apostolic exhortation “Verbum Domini”:
“Yet we would not yet sufficiently grasp the message of the Prologue of St. John if we stopped at the fact that God enters into loving communion with us. In reality, the Word of God, through whom ‘all things were made’ (John 1:3) and who ‘became flesh’ (John 1:14), is the same Word who is ‘in the beginning’ (John 1:1). If we realize that this is an allusion to the beginning of the book of Genesis (cf. Genesis 1:1), we find ourselves faced with a beginning which is absolute and which speaks to us of the inner life of God.
“The Johannine Prologue makes us realize that the Logos is truly eternal, and from eternity is himself God. God was never without his Logos. The Word exists before creation. Consequently at the heart of the divine life there is communion, there is absolute gift. ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16), as the same Apostle tells us elsewhere, thus pointing to ‘the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny.’ God makes himself known to us as a mystery of infinite love in which the Father eternally utters his Word in the Holy Spirit. Consequently the Word, who from the beginning is with God and is God, reveals God himself in the dialogue of love between the divine persons, and invites us to share in that love. Created in the image and likeness of the God who is love, we can thus understand ourselves only in accepting the Word and in docility to the work of the Holy Spirit. In the light of the revelation made by God’s Word, the enigma of the human condition is definitively clarified” (“Verbum Domini,” No. 6).
[The readings for Christmas Day Mass are Isaiah Is 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18 or John 1:1-5, 9-14]