Frances writes on the Readings for Christmas Morning :- In all the scramble to get ready for the arrival of friends and family, Christians can easily loose sight of what the Christmas event is really about, and that plethora of School Nativity Plays can have a certain numbing effect as we focus on our infant relatives, and the plonking of the baby in the manger.
During the Advent Season the Church has prepared us for Christmas by way of a series of surprising Gospel stories: Noah’s Flood; John the Baptist’s excoriating attack on the Pharisees and Sadducees; Jesus’ replay to the imprisoned John as to his identity, and the fact that he himself will be a scandal to so many; and ending with the equally scandalous account of Joseph’s discovery of Mary’s pregnancy and his dream-given solution to his dilemma. Clearly something was and is wrong. The coming to be in time of Jesus, the Son of God made man, has been uncomfortable and deeply disturbing, and rightly so.
In our First Reading (Isaiah 52:7-10) we find a beautiful poem of hope and celebration. The background to it however is very different, coming as it does from 2nd Isaiah, Prophet of the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BC. He wrote to give his people hope in the dark times in which they were living far from home with their temple in ruins and the faith at risk of utter annihilation. Isaiah believed that good could come from within the utter ruin of his people and that they would emerge from this experience reformed and able to renew and explore their relationship with God.
This view is something the writer of Hebrews reflects upon positively (1:1-6). All those past difficult times were a preparation for the great event we now celebrate, and he does it in a piece of lavish prose poetry in which he sings the praises of Christ the Redeemer, come among us, and of a world utterly transformed by his presence. ‘Jesus is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, (in Greek, “sharing the very reality of God”) sustaining the universe by his powerful command’. There is now nothing he cannot do; nowhere his grace cannot reach. Now, in Jesus, “The Son that he has appointed to inherit everything” surely our lives too are transformed, open to God as never before. The tiny baby whose birth we celebrate today is the one whose relationship to the Father opens the way for our perfect and lasting relationship with God too. Truly this is an event worthy of our most fulsome celebration, and an invitation for Christians everywhere to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation, and explore its stunning significance for humanity.
This is what St John does in his wonderful Prologue to the 4th Gospel (John 1:1-18) in which he enters into the dynamic of God’s way for our salvation. It colours and enlivens his entire Gospel on every page. John speaks of Jesus as God’s ‘Word’, his speech and articulation, his communication with us, existing from all time but finally come to its fullness and fruition in the human body of the man Jesus. He makes clear the certainty of the full divinity of the Word/Jesus, speaking of him as “With God in the beginning”, and as the one through whom the entire created order springs into being, “Not one thing had its being but through him.” John talks of God the Word/Son as ‘light’ since he and he alone enables humanity to engage with God, to know him; and the quality of that knowing, as we shall see as the Gospel unfolds, will be quite unlike any previous intimacy with the divine, since we are now, through the Word/Son to become and live our lives as ‘children of God’. Not just any children, subject as were ancient children to the total power of their fathers, but here and through the Incarnation of the Word, able to see and inhabit the glory of God himself. “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” In Greek the word for “lived” is “tabernacled” among us, suggesting a far greater degree of intimacy with us, involved, committed, God open and discoverable to humankind.
St John has taken the idea of the baby, born of Mary and placed in a humble stable, and literally peeled off the layers to help us enter into the wonder and glory of the child born through Joseph’s saving dreams. The man we meet as the Word is and will continue to be God the Son working as a human being to communicate God himself to humanity, accepting the stresses and failures and the delights of this God-given task. As one who shares totally in the will, the mind, of the Father he will pursue their shared vision of a humanity redeemed with unimaginable fervour, and will follow this vision that we too share God’s life right through to the cross and his terrible death. “He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him.” What we are uncovering this Christmas is a taste of “The glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” What each of us does with this first beginning is up to us, we can follow his great adventure of human redemption or put it back in the box with the rest of the crib scene until next year. What will you do?