29 Dec Christmas morning, 8 am Mass
Deacon Blaine Barclay
Who is this Jesus, who bursts upon the scene of human history this Christmas morning?
You may have come to Church this morning expecting to hear the nativity story. The story of the birth of Jesus, a long time ago in Bethlehem. It is as if John is saying to us, this story is so familiar to you that you no longer need to hear about shepherds and kings, stars and manger scenes, so let’s go directly to point of it all. So don’t worry, you have come to the mass for the Nativity of the Lord, the mass where the gospel reading is taken from the gospel of John. The gospel of John doesn’t start off with the birth of Jesus, as do the gospels of Matthew and Luke, or, with the ministry of John the Baptist, as does the gospel of Mark.
The gospel of John goes right to the heart of the matter. He doesn’t pull any punches, doesn’t beat around the burning bush, so to speak. Right away he takes off his shoes and invites us in, to stand with him on holy ground. The gospel of John assumes that we are already familiar with the content of the other three gospels, that we have already been immersed in the waters of the Gospel, have heard the basic proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. So he dives right into the deep end of the pool. No chance to dip our toes in, or splash water on our face before we jump in with him. John goes right to the heart of the question. Who is this naked, vulnerable, child, born to us this Christmas morning? Who is Jesus? Not, who was Jesus? As if this was just an event that took place somewhere in the past. Because for John this is an ‘is’ question, and not just a ‘was’ question. And his answer echoes through human history like a bottomless earthquake or an endless tsunami, shattering all our expectations and human constructs.
‘’In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and lived among us’. So begins the prolog of the gospel of John. What we have here is a new book of Genesis, for it starts with the very same words, ’in the beginning’. Do not imagine however, that this is a beginning like other beginnings, for time itself is a creature. This beginning has no beginning, it is hidden in the eternal, but has become visible for us in the person of Jesus.
‘In the beginning was the Word’. The Greek word translated here as ‘Word’, is ‘Logos’. One very recent translator of the New Testament refuses to translate this Greek word. So deep and multilayered are the meanings of this word, ‘Logos’, that he is convinced that no single English word can be used to translate it, that to do so is to so shrink and limit our understanding of its range of meanings that it borders on the idolatrous. This is something akin to the Jewish reluctance to pronounce or use the name of God.
So, what does this word, ‘Logos’, mean? And further, what does it mean to say and believe that this Logos became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth?
Logos, can be translated variously as speech, word, reason, ordered account, explanation, meaning, form, intelligible pattern. In a kind of expanded translation, John is saying that in Jesus, the creating inner meaning and pattern of all things, the inner-connecting glue that holds everything together just the way it is, the primal ordering principle, became flesh, became a concrete human being. In other words, the whole meaning of life became flesh, became one of us and lived our human life.
That God would become flesh was of course nothing less than a scandal to the ancient way of thinking. Flesh and Spirit were seen as polar opposites. This is the scandal of the Incarnation, the scandal of the Cross. The idea that God would take on flesh and death was unthinkable. But in Jesus God, has embraced the human condition right down to the frail dependency of a newborn infant, and the God- forsakenness of death on a cross.
This is the shattering truth of Christmas morning, empowering us to be bold missionary disciples. It is a long way from the tinsel and frantic consumerism of the mall. But this is the gift of Christmas, the self-emptying love of God in Christ. The sheer joy of God’s generosity towards each one of us.