The Message Takes Flesh

Christmas Day Liturgy Scripture Readings

In last night’s liturgical celebration, we relived the birth of the Messiah child in Bethlehem, the descent of God’s glory into the holy of holies that was the manger in the shepherds’ cave, and the announcement of that birth by the messenger of God’s Power to us—the poorest of the poor. This morning, we reflect on the meaning of that birth. John’s gospel, particularly the passage we read today, conveyed the spiritual insights of the Apostles looking back on almost a generation of experience. It also served to transform the understanding of the first disciples of what their experience meant. This, then, has been one of the most transformative passages in all the gospels, and it can transform us still.

Like the Book of Genesis, it begins at the beginning. The Book of Genesis provides us with a spiritual reflection on the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing, and what is our relationship to it all?” The Gospel of John, however, looks at the universe and asks, “What is the meaning of it all?” Genesis shows us how the word of God, the דבר־יהוה (dabar-Yahweh) brought order out of chaos, something out of nothing. In contrast, John shows us something entirely different. He tells us that from the beginning, there was the Λογος (Logos), the principle of intelligibility. The Λογος (Logos) is the way in which anything can be known. In order for the Λογος (Logos) to exist, there must be three things: the knower, the known, and the act of knowing. To say that in the beginning was the Λογος (Logos) is saying that, not only is creation nothing without God (the knower), but that God is nothing without creation (the known). The nature, the very essence of God is communication, and everything that is, and everything that happens is God’s communication—his self-revelation.

Listen once again, and hear what John is saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” Whereas Genesis focuses on things: the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, the earth and the seas, fishes and birds, plants and animals, and, finally, humankind, John’s creation story focuses on life—the reflection of the living God. As Genesis begins with light, the new creation from John’s gospel begins with life. “What came to be through [the Λογος (Logos)] was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness [of death], and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This has a profound effect on our understanding of our world. The paleontologist and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, looked closely at our universe and how it continues to unfold, and he saw, in a way no one had before him, the full implication of John’s insight. He realized, as John had, that the universe was saturated with life, at the core of everything, emerging slowly over time, flowering into consciousness, and bearing fruit as the eternal Λογος (Logos) broke into human history at the birth of Jesus. “And the [Λογος (Logos)] became flesh
and pitched his tent among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, the fulness of his enduring love.” We call this emergence of God’s communication of himself, this Λογος (Logos), into humanity and into human history the Incarnation of the Λογος (Logos).

We mustn’t concern ourselves exclusively with what happened two thousand years ago, The Incarnation had no beginning. It always was. God has always been immersed in time and space. God’s communication has been constant. There has always been a sender, a message, and the sending. What has changed has been the receivers of God’s message—you and I. There’s an old principle of communication that says, “Whatever is received is received in the mode of the receiver.” We hear what we want to hear. What changes is our ability and willingness to hear and understand the message. As we heard in our second reading, “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.”

Once we can appreciate what John’s gospel struggles to teach us, we can begin to understand better not only what we celebrate here today on this Christmas morning, but also who God is for us, with us, and in us. We call God the Speaker of the Word, the Communicator of the Message, the Revealer of himself, “the Father.” We call God the Spoken Word, the Λογος (Logos), the Message, “the Son.” We call God the Speaking, the Communicating, the Revealing, the Living, the Loving, “the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Trinity emerged in the fullness of his glory at the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That emergence continues today and every day because we live and love not on our own strength alone, but with and by the power of that Holy Spirit which we have received. One final note today as we meditate on this most profound of all gospels: God the Communicator never stops communicating himself to us. The Speaker is never silent. The Message—the Λογος (Logos)—never falters. The Speaking never ceases. However, what stands between the Speaker and us the listeners is the static of the material world and our own inattention. That’s why we celebrate this liturgy over and over again because we are finite and the Λογος (Logos) is infinite. We’re not just remembering today the birth of the Son of God in Bethlehem of Judea. The Message didn’t stop there. Once, Jesus was the Message; now, we are the Message. As ever, the Message is life, the Message is love. And, if the message doesn’t become flesh in us, how can it ever be heard?

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