Sunday, December 25, 2011

God's Deepest, Most Beautiful Word

The Nativity, by He Qi

Throughout Advent you and I, who are the Church, have longed and prayed in hope for the coming of Jesus the Holy One. The word for “coming” in Greek, parousía, is a verb form, and refers not so much to the past, as in the birth at Bethlehem, nor to the future, as at the end-times culmination of our world, but rather to the very real on-goingness of God’s coming now, continuously, into our lives through Jesus. That “coming” is God’s promise over and over again in Scripture, and the uniqueness, believability and power of God’s message lies in the fact that what God promised really happened and continues to happen in Jesus. But as we ponder the birth of Jesus and its implications for us, we realize that the hope which this great event brings isn’t just a warm, cuddly kind of hope, as the surrounding culture likes to depict it, but rather a sobering hope.
Back in 1990 I read this little Advent meditation: “Two women who were dressed in their finest were having lunch at a very exclusive restaurant. A friend saw them and came over to their table to greet them. ‘What’s the special occasion?’, she asked. One of the women said, ‘We’re having a birthday party for the baby in our family. He’s 2 years old today.’ ‘But where’s the baby?’, the friend asked. The child’s mother answered, ‘Oh, I dropped him off at my mother’s house. She’s taking care of him until the party’s over. It wouldn’t have been any fun with him along.’ How ridiculous -- a birthday celebration for a child who wasn’t welcome at his own party! Yet, when you stop to think about it, that’s no more foolish than going through the Christmas season, with all of its festivities, without remembering the One whose birth we are supposed to be honoring. And that’s the way many people celebrate Christmas. In all the busyness -- the party-going, gift-shopping, and family gatherings -- the One whose birthday they are commemorating is almost completely forgotten.
It’s quite interesting to note that none of the readings on today’s Christmas feast mentions the birth event of Jesus in Bethlehem, other than a very general reference in John’s Gospel: “...and the Word became flesh…”  Rather, the Epistle passage from the unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews (1:1-4) seems to act as a bridge between the proclamations of Isaiah in the first reading (52:7-10) and of St. John in the Gospel reading (1:1-14), connecting the profound realities about the Messiah, the Word of God, who was Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews says: Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son...through whom God also created the worlds…” He goes on to describe God’s Son, Jesus, as the icon of God, the mirror-image, pointing to and reflecting “God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very 
being…”, a being and existence which you and I share by God’s grace. The passage points back to the prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, who describes the Coming One as the bearer of Good News, as one who comforts God’s people, as one before whom “all the nations”, i.e., all the powers that be in the world: political, governmental, economic, academic, etc., fall silent in awe, respect, and submission.
The writer also looks forward to the Gospel passage, referring to “a Son” about whom God has spoken to us. John the Evangelist, in that magnificent Prologue to his Gospel account of Jesus‘ life, identifies this Son as “the Word...the Word [who] was with God...the Word [who] was God.” John confirms the description of Jesus, God’s Son, given by the writer of Hebrews: “[The Word] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him...What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people…” Scripture speaks of deep darkness and chaos, both at the beginning of creation in Genesis, and in the world into which Jesus came, the son of poor Jewish working class people. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us [literally, pitched his tent among us]. You could almost say, in today’s terms, it was an “Occupy World” event!
John also refers in the Prologue to Jesus‘ cousin, John the Baptizer, also called The Forerunner, who introduced his cousin to the people among whom Jesus lived and preached. John the Evangelist tells us that the reaction to “the Word”, the “True Light”, was under-whelming, to say the least! “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him,; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” ...Except for a few people whom Jesus empowered, including us, right down to the present, to become “children [family members] of God.
You and I continue to be followers of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, because someone took the time to share him and his saving message with us. We continue to struggle in making sense of “the Word” in our own hearts and in our society. We try our best to learn how to share that Word with those whom we love and respect, and with others in whom we recognize an openness to and a hunger for Jesus‘ saving Word.
So, where’s the Christmas Baby? 
The Baby is the One who grew up in a simple Jewish home, the One who ever more deeply, as he grew to be a man, felt the increasing need to reach out to anyone who would listen and speak to them “the Word”, God’s message of Good News, by his life.
The late Fr. Karl Rahner, one of the 20th century’s greatest theologians, writes in his book, The Eternal Year, a most stunning description of what Christmas implies for us as we try follow Jesus. He says: God has come. He is here in the world. And therefore everything is different from what we imagine it to be. Time is transformed from its eternal flow into an event that with silent, clear resoluteness leads to a definitely determined goal wherein we and the world shall stand before the unveiled face of God. When we say, ‘It is Christmas,‘ we mean that God has spoken into the world his last, his deepest, his most beautiful word in the incarnate Word, a word that can no longer be revoked because it is God’s definitive deed, because it is God himself in the world.
And this word means: I love you, you, the world and humankind. This is a wholly unexpected word, a quite unlikely word. For how can this word be spoken when both humankind and the world are recognized as dreadful, empty abysses? But God knows them better than we. And yet he has spoken this word by being himself born as a creature. The very existence of this incarnate Word of love demands that it shall provide, eye to eye and heart to heart, an almost unbelievable fellowship...between the eternal God and us...
And now there is stillness in the world only for a little while. The busyness that is proudly called universal history, or one’s own life, is only the stratagem of an eternal love that wills to enable us to give a free answer to its final word...In the trembling of my heart that quivers because of God’s love, I should tell God, who as a human person stands beside me in silent expectation, ‘I‘ -- no, rather say nothing to him, but silently give yourself to the love of God that is there because the Son is born.

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