Christmas Homily, December 25, 2020
By Fr. Claude Perera, OMI
First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10
The Good News of the return of the exiles is announced by the watchmen of Jerusalem.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98:1-6
Praise for God Our Saviour
Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6
God has finally spoke through his Son.
Gospel Reading: John 1:1-18 (or shorter form, John 1:1-5, 9-14)
Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
Background on the Gospel Reading
Christmas involves four Masses each with an assortment of readings to help focussing on the event of profound mystery of the incarnation. The Gospel for the Vigil Mass is the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. The Midnight Mass has the Lucan narrative of the birth of Jesus which continues into the episode with angels and shepherds at the Dawn Mass. This content is common knowledge related to Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. But the Daytime Mass goes in a completely different direction.
The centre of the Daytime Mass is the prologue of the Gospel of John, which is not an Infancy Narrative unlike in Matthew and Luke, but a kind of substitute for it in the Johannine manner. Its opening words resonate the beginning of the Book of Genesis. In this poetic passage of the prologue, John uses the word Word five times reaching the crescendo in verse 14 which says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The prologue uses highly philosophical and theological language. What is the reason for it?
Within thirty years of Jesus’ death, Christianity had spread in the Mediterranean world, specially in Asia Minor and Greece and Rome who thought in Greco-Roman categories. But Jewish concepts were alien to them. So, John had to present Christianity to the Greek world in the Greek city of Ephesus where the Johannine community was. He found that, in both Greek and Jewish thought, the concept of the “word” existed. For the ANE people, word (davr in Hebrew) was the creative, saving as well as destructive divine utterance. The Greek term for word was Logos which meant not only word, but also reason. Hence, Logos, evoked a double meaning of the Word of God and the Reason of God. That is why John presents Jesus to the Greeks as the eternal, light-giving and creative power of God, or the Mind of God in the very beginning of his Gospel. To it he added region’s other prevalent philosophical concepts like the pre-existence of the word, and the Zoroastrian dialectics (like the light and darkness, knowledge and ignorance, truth and falsehood, life, and death etc.). Strictly monotheistic Jews could never understand the pre-existence of the Word with God. But as that concept was found in Greek philosophy and thus, known to the audience. Greek philosophy understood the logos as an intermediary between God and humanity. So, John used it. God sent that pre-existent eternal Word into human history in order to reveal the glory that He shares with the Father.
Talking of the incarnation, in Jn 1:14, he said “The word was made flesh and dwelt among us”. This has a wealth of meanings. The Greek word used to express the idea of dwelling was ‘eskenousin’, from the Greek noun skn meaning ‘tent.’ This means that God’s eternal Word pitched his tent among us. Why did he say that? Prologue refutes certain Gnostic ideas, which denied the reality of the Incarnation of the Son of God. This was the Gnostic heresy, called Docetism, which taught that Jesus did not have a physical existence and it was merely an ‘appearance’ or a ‘façade’ because a divine super creature could not identified himself with this defective human existence. So, John insists that Jesus, the Son of God became a true human being. Christmas is the feast of the humanity of Jesus. He was born into all the vicissitudes of human existence except sin. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews rightly recognized this when he said, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:14-16). At incarnation God ennobled human nature. Christmas is the feast of human nature. St Iranaeus said glory of God is man fully alive. Let us be happy that we are created as humans and not animals. Humans are rational animals although we do not behave as rational animals often. On the other hand, in the poor and developing countries the poor live in subhuman levels deprived of human rights and basic needs of life. God is not the cause of their misery. Misery has been caused by the greed or the lack of concern for the needy people. Let Christmas challenge us to reorientate us in the right direction.
Happy Christmas! Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad! Feliz Nadal! Frhliche Weihnachten! Fijne Kerst! Wesołych Świąt! Sretan Božić! Shubha Naththalak! Mahilchiyana Kristhumas!Krisamas Kee Shubhakaamana!