Monday, December 25, 2017
Christmas Angels and John!
When I was in second grade (in the other century) at Brother Dutton school in Beloit, WI, our class put on a Christmas play focusing on the Nativity and the manger scene. Of course, Kathy K., was chosen to be Mary (probably because she had long blond curls). Tom M., the smallest boy in our class, was selected to be baby Jesus, and I can’t recall who was chosen to be Joseph. However, the rest of us got to be angels, and we stood on those tiny reading chairs which were arranged in two long rows behind the manger scene. The Star of Bethlehem was covered in aluminum foil and attached to the yardstick that usually leaned against the piano in our room. So to give the impression of the movement of the star guiding the shepherds to Bethlehem, each child angel was handed the yardstick with the attached shining star, and moved it along from angel to angel down the row until it reached the last angel, who then raised it high so that it would shimmer, sparkle, glow and reflect light upon the face of baby Jesus. I was the lucky one to be that last angel to stand there with the yardstick and star, and to just shine! (This was the beginning and ending of my acting career!)
In our Gospel today, I suppose at first glance, we might say that John knows next to nothing about angels or shepherds, stars or magi. However, the Gospel of John, always looking for deeper meanings in ordinary things, gives us a theological perspective on the Christmas story.
John’s literary style is more poetic, a higher Christology presented than any other Christian Scripture writer; it is a mystical reflection on the divinity and incarnation of Jesus. His focus is on the “signs” of Jesus, namely his identity and mission, and the Gospel is filled with lengthy theological discourses.
John begins his Gospel with “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). The Light was to be incarnate and dwelling among humanity. Translations use the phrase “God pitched his tent” among us; while others remark on “God has tabernacled” among us. And according to one contemporary author, he writes, “God moved in with us.” God is present in Jesus and God’s face is revealed to us and to all creation through, with, and in Jesus. He is to be understood as the “revealed” of God . . . all that Jesus says and does in the Gospel reveals something of the Mystery and the glory of God, and this Mystery challenges us to believe in the One whom God has sent.
It is at this season, with each Christmas card we open, we are invited to reflect on Jesus as the Light entering the darkness of Mary’s womb, becoming incarnate Word, Light, Healer, Compassion, and Love of God.
Also, as we contemplate the reading from Hebrews, we read that God spoke in the past through prophets, and through bright clouds, a burning bush, and a pillar of fire which were signs of God's presence for the people. Yet, that is no longer needed; no longer enough . . . for now God is doing something New! God speaks God-self to us and to all creation. The Word enters humanity; it is a cosmic union of heaven and earth!
Jesus was Word Incarnate whose words took flesh as well. His words were of compassion, healing, encouragement, and empowerment. Jesus not only spoke of a God of mercy and forgiveness, but also extended that forgiveness to all whom he encountered. Jesus taught by his way of life - for Jesus was the Word that both stabilized and destabilized; that comforted and discomforted. He was Wonder-Counselor, the Prince of Peace who filled our world with majesty, mystery, and meaning.
At this time, we once again celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ; we celebrate the Promise of Peace. We celebrate this awesome mystery; an incredible, unfathomable, infinite kind of Love that is difficult to wrap our minds around, much less our hearts! Our God has truly entered the human condition, a human condition that is not all clean and lovely, warm and welcoming as Christmas cards would have us believe. Our loving God is committed to living in solidarity with us; to share our joys and pains, and to companion us in all the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of our lives.
So let it be said, Christmas is not the feast of a child born long ago and far away. Christmas is the feast of the God who loved us so much as to take upon our human nature so that God might in that human nature impart to us God-self and thus a share in unending life!
I close with a poetry selection entitled: “The Work of Christmas”— by Howard Thurman, who was a spiritual mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr., and is considered a great mystic of the 20th century. He writes:
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all people, and
To make music in the heart.
Gospel Jn. 1 1-18