Introduction: While Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham and Luke’s genealogy to Adam, John’s genealogy goes back to God Himself. John travels to eternity to reveal to us the theology of Christmas. He presents the Creation story as the framework for announcing the Incarnation. Viewing Jesus’ birth from God’s perspective, he clarifies the truth that Incarnation of God to save mankind was the Divine intention from the very beginning, from the moment of Creation. While the synoptic Gospel selections for the Vigil, Midnight and Dawn Masses describe the history of Christmas and Jesus’ infancy narratives, the selection from John’s Gospel for this Daytime Mass lifts us out of history into the realm of mystery—His wonderful Name is the Word. The reading tells us that the Baby in the manger is the Word of God, the very Self-expression of God.
Homily starter anecdote: A vision test: Once there was a Rabbi who asked his disciples the following question: “How do you know when the darkness has been overcome, when the dawn has arrived?” One of the disciples answered, “When you can look into the distance and tell the difference between a cow and a deer, then you know dawn has arrived.” “Close,” the Rabbi responded, “but not quite.” Another disciple ventured a response, “When you can look into the distance and distinguish a peach blossom from an apple blossom, then you know that the darkness has been overcome.” “Not bad,” the Rabbi said, “not bad! But the correct answer is slightly different. When you can look on the face of any man or any woman and know immediately that this is God’s child and your brother or sister, then you know that the darkness has been overcome, that the Daystar has appeared.” This Christmas morning when we celebrate the victory of Light over darkness, the Gospel of John introduces Jesus as the true Light Who came from Heaven into our world of darkness to give us clear vision. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ).
Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading gives us the assurance that, just as Yahweh restored His Chosen People to their homeland after the Babylonian exile, Jesus, the Savior, will restore mankind to the kingdom of God. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us how God, Who had conveyed His words to us in the past through His prophets, has now sent His own Son so that He might demonstrate to us humans, by His life, death and Resurrection the real nature of our God. John’s Gospel gives us a profoundly philosophical and theological vision of Christ, the result of John’s years of preaching and of meditating on this wondrous mystery of God’s love. John presents Jesus as the “Word of God.” In Jewish thought, this phrase describes God taking action as in His act of creation of the world. The Greeks understood “logos” or the Word of God as an intermediary between God and humanity. In the Biblical Christian theology, the word Logos came to be equated with the Second Person of the Trinity. While stressing the Divinity of Christ, John leaves no doubt as to the reality of Jesus’ human nature. In the Prologue of his Gospel, John introduces the birth of Jesus as the dawning of the Light Who will remove the darkness of evil from the world. He records later in his Gospel why light is the perfect symbol of Christmas: Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world,” (Jn 8:12) and “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14-16). John tells us that God pitched His tent among us, meaning that God makes his home with us, He accompanies us, He lives with us, He shares our joys and our struggles, He eats with us, He becomes a meal for us in the Eucharist. The God who “pitched His tent” among us in Bethlehem and continues to live with each of us in our home, our apartment, our religious community or our retirement home, continues to dwell within us. That is why we rejoice, celebrating Christmas. A student came to a rabbi and said, ‘In the olden days there were people who saw the face of God. Why don’t they anymore?’ The rabbi replied, ‘Because nowadays no one can stoop that low.’ God keeps company with us. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (Jn 1.14)
First reading, Isaiah 52:7-10 explained: This prophetic passage dates from the return of the Jews to their homeland at the end of the Babylonian Captivity. The setting is the desolate city, Jerusalem, awaiting the return of the exiles from Babylon. The city is personified; rhetorically, it is called “Zion,” after the hill in its midst where the Temple stood. Isaiah first imagines that the city can hear, even at a distance, the footsteps of her returning children. The returnees are pictured as singing exultantly, “Your God is King!” Then Jerusalem’s sentinels raise the cry of recognition and join in the praise of God. Finally, the joyful people declare that all the earth will recognize the hand of God at work in their restoration. This return to Jerusalem, like the Exodus from Egypt centuries earlier, was a type or a foreshadowing of the greater redemption that was to come through Jesus the Messiah. The re-possession of the land of Canaan for a few years and the restoring of Jerusalem and Judah were but pale shadows of the great restoration and the possession of our eternal promised land which were to be given by the Messiah in the days to come, not only to Israel but to all nations. “Today’s feast celebrates the Christ-event. In fact, the glad tidings of the Deutero-Isaiahan messenger were only fully actualized, only fully heard and made comprehensible in the event of Jesus Christ. In the event of the Incarnation, Yahweh truly returns and restores Jerusalem; in the event of the Nativity, Yahweh draws near to comfort and console his people. In the event of Christ-made-flesh, God’s message of salvation achieves its utmost clarity.” (Celebration).
Second Reading, Hebrews 1:1-6 explained: The addressees of the Letter to the Hebrews were Christian Jews who were beginning to feel the pain of separation from their fellow-Jews who had refused to see Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. The Christian Jews needed to be reminded that their relationship with Jesus more than filled the gaps in their religious lives caused by the loss of Temple ritual and the like, particularly as they were suffering the temptation to change back to the old Law and the Jewish religion because of persecution from Judaizers. In the Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul explains to them how superior the New Covenant is to the old. The letter begins with a comparison of how God formerly spoke to their ancestors and how God has now definitively spoken to them through Jesus. These six verses from the Letter’s first chapter were chosen for today’s reading because of the clear, definite and emphatic declaration of the Divinity of Christ and His equality with God, which they contain. Paul asserts that the Baby who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, lived and died in Palestine, rose on the third day from the grave and ascended to Heaven forty days later, was also God, equal to the Father in all things. This is a mystery beyond our human comprehension, yet it is a fact, stated by Christ Himself, believed and preached by the Apostles, and accepted by the Church for two thousand years. The whole reading is about the superiority of Jesus to everything and everyone else and God’s final Self-Revelation through Jesus as superior to the Old Testament Revelation of God. Specifically, the reading declares that Jesus is superior to angels. That Jesus is also, necessarily, superior to the institutions of Judaism, from which the Hebrew Christians were cut off and for which they were feeling nostalgic, is implied in the passage.
Gospel exegesis: The prologue of John’s Gospel: From the time of the earliest lectionaries, the Prologue to John’s Gospel (Chapter 1) was the traditional assigned Gospel for Christmas Day because it is one of the most magnificent (and theologically profound) passages in the entire New Testament. For several centuries, this passage was familiar to Catholic parishioners as the “Last Gospel,” since it was directed to be read at the conclusion of each Mass, as the final thought that would accompany God’s people as they left the Church and returned to their homes and daily occupations. It has been taken as the litmus test of theological orthodoxy regarding the reality of Christ’s Incarnation, and lies behind some of the wording of the Nicene Creed. “John’s Gospel highlights the deity of Jesus Christ, without minimizing His humanity.” (Rev. Bob Deffinbaugh; online at www.bible.org). Many scholars believe that the Prologue is an insistent rebuttal of certain Gnostic ideas, which denied the reality (or the possibility) of a Divine Incarnation. This Gnostic idea was later condemned as a heresy, called Docetism, which taught that the physical reality of Jesus was merely an “appearance” or a “façade,” and not inherent in who and what Jesus was.
The paradox of the Incarnation: Against later theories that Christ was somehow merely a “super-creature,” or an exemplary human being who had simply been subsequently “adopted” by God, John wants to make clear that the Son—unlike every creature born in time—pre-existed all things, and was, in fact, an active part of the Divine creative process. John the Evangelist proclaims the Incarnation of God, the most fundamental truth of Christianity, in the immortal words of his Prologue, making the connection between Jesus Christ and the Logos of God. Unlike most Jewish genealogies, this one traces Jesus’ origins to the Eternal Divinity. Between the beautiful Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John, there lies the great paradox of the Christian Faith, the paradox of the Incarnation, the entering of God into the human story, in human form. The Prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18), can be divided into three sections: a) the Word’s relationship to the Creator and Creation (1:1-5), b) the Word’s relationship to John the Baptist (1:6-9) and c) the Word’s relationship to the world (1:10-18).
The theology of the Word made flesh: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” According to almost all interpreters, this is the climax of John’s poetic Prologue—the culmination of his gradual theological “crescendo,” and the “key” to everything else in the Gospel. It is such a simple phrase, and yet is contains within it the promise, hope and challenge of Christianity in a nutshell! Within thirty years of Jesus’ death, the Christian Faith had traveled all over Asia Minor and Greece and had arrived in Rome. By AD 60, there must have been a hundred thousand Greeks in the Church for every Jew who had become a Christian. But Jewish ideas like the Messiah, the center of Jewish expectation, were completely strange to the Greeks. Hence, the very category in which the Jewish Christians conceived and presented Jesus meant nothing to the Greek Christians. The problem which John faced was how to present Christianity to the Greek world around him in the Greek city of Ephesus where he lived. He found that, in both Greek and Jewish thought, there existed the concept of the “word.” For the Eastern peoples, words had an independent, power-filled existence. The Greek term for word is Logos which not only means word, but also reason. Hence, whenever the Greeks used Logos, the twin ideas of the Word of God and the Reason of God were in their minds. That is why John introduces Jesus to the Greeks as the eternal, light-giving and creative power of God, or the Mind of God in poetical prose, in the very beginning of his Gospel. In his Prologue, John deals with the major themes like the pre-existence of the Word, God/Word and Father/Son as distinct Persons but, at the same time, one God; of Jesus as God, Life and Light; of the struggle between Light and darkness; of the power of the Light over darkness. According to John, the Word of God, Jesus, gives Life and Light. Thus, the Prologue of John’s Gospel summarizes how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. One of the Fathers of the Church (St. Irenaeus) once said, “Gloria Dei, homo vivens,” (“the glory of God is a person fully alive”). If that can be said of any of us, how much more must it be true of the Word made Flesh? Here in this prologue, the evangelist enunciates Christ’s superiority not only to everyone else as the One mediator between God and humanity but also to the Law.
John the Baptizer’s role: John the Baptizer’s coming renewed Israel’s prophetic tradition after four hundred years of silence. Since John’s ministry was so powerful, some people thought of him as the Messiah. Hence, John’s Gospel makes a number of references to John the Baptizer, always clearly establishing that he was subordinate to Jesus. He was not the Light, but came to bear witness to the Light (vv. 7-8). John’s mission was to bear testimony to the Light (Jesus) — to serve as a witness to the Light (v. 7). John died as a martyr because he showed the courage of his prophetic convictions by correcting Herod the king for his immoral life.
The Messiah rejected by his own people: “He came to what was His own, and His own people did not accept Him” (1:11). Jesus “came home” to Israel, where the people should have known Him. And it was the homefolk, “His own,” the Israelites, the Chosen People, who did not receive Him. God had prepared them for centuries to receive the Messiah into their midst, but they rejected him. This rejection of the Word by Jesus’ own people is restricted neither to the time of Jesus nor to that of the Fourth Gospel. Much of the world today is still in rebellion, “preferring darkness to Light, because its deeds are evil” (3:19-20). That is true of all of us at certain points in our lives, but we are not imprisoned in those moments. We can, as long as we are alive, turn to Him, repentant and believing, and become His own again. “But to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God” (v. 12).
“The Word became Flesh and lived among us” (v. 14): The Word becoming flesh is the zenith of God’s Self-revelation. God Who spoke earlier through the prophets now speaks through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2), and lives among us. The Word Who dwelt with God now dwells with “us,” becoming a human being like us and thus bridging the great chasm between God’s world and our world. Verse 14 declares that the God Who once dwelt among them in the Tabernacle and the Temple, now chooses to dwell among them in the Person of Jesus. In the Old Testament, Moses was not allowed to see the face of God. Now, however, we are allowed to see Jesus’ glory — and His face. Thus, the Father is fully revealed to us, because, “Whoever has seen (the Son) has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). The other Gospels depict the glory of God coming upon Jesus at the Transfiguration. John does not relate this incident, both because he sees the glory of God in all Jesus says and does, and because the hour for Jesus to be glorified is the crucifixion.
“We have all received, grace upon grace.” (v. 16): The Word is full of grace and truth – attributes of God – attributes that the Word shares with God as the “Father’s only Son” (v. 15). It is from this One Who is “full of grace and truth” that we receive “grace upon grace.” In other words, we draw grace from the total resources of God, an inexhaustible storehouse. Regardless of our need for grace, the supply is greater. Let us imagine ourselves standing on the seashore, watching the waves roll in. They come every few seconds, and the supply never fails. That is how God’s grace comes to us. Let us at this Christmas time try to count just some of those “graces showered on us.” Verse 17 identifies the Word as Jesus: “The Law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The gift that is the Truth surpasses and perfects the former gift of the Law given through Moses. Note the contrasts between Moses and Jesus: We received the law through Moses, but we receive grace and truth through Jesus Christ (v. 17). John’s Prologue begins by declaring that that the Word was God (v. 1), and concludes (v.18), by proclaiming that the Son is God.
Life messages: 1) A day to remember and a day to wait for: Today, while we remember and celebrate God’s first coming into our world in human form, we also look forward because the liturgy we celebrate reminds us that the Lord is going to return in his Second Coming. However, Christ is not going to return as a Child but as a Warrior, a Judge, a mighty Savior. The liturgy calls on us to prepare His way, to be ready to be judged by Him. So we are looking back and remembering the past coming of Jesus as our Savior, and looking forward and preparing for His future coming in glory as Judge to reward and punish. In addition to these two “comings,” the Church teaches us that Christ is here now, Christ is present, Christ comes to us today, and Christ comes to us every day. Christmas is actually a celebration intended to heighten our awareness of the fact that Christ has been born, Christ lives, and Christ is present now in our lives. Christmas reminds us, through the lives of the people in the Christmas narrative, of the importance of helping to bring the presence of Christ to the world around us and of being sensitive to that presence when the Lord comes to us in the least expected people, and in unexpected places and situations. We are asked to welcome Christ’s Kingdom into our lives by allowing Him to be born in us, by recognizing Him in others and by courageously going forth with His grace to build His kingdom of love, justice, peace and holiness in our world.
2) We need to remember that there is no room in the manger except for Jesus and us: There isn’t room in the manger for all the baggage we carry around with us. There’s no room for our pious pride and self-righteousness. There’s no room for our human power and prestige. There’s no room for the baggage of past failure and unforgiven sin. There’s no room for our prejudice, bigotry and jingoistic national pride. There’s no room for bitterness and greed. There is no room in the manger for anything other than the absolute reality of who and what we really are: very human, very real, very fragile, very vulnerable beings who desperately need the gift of love and grace which God so powerfully desires to give. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)