Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Homily Christmas Morning 2016

Where the Eternal Word first touched the earth. Photo: Matthew Duckett

Isaiah 52.7–10
Hebrews 1.1–4
John 1.1–14

Our Christmas celebration culminates in that glorious opening of John’s Gospel, one of the most powerful, inspired and divine passages of writing that ever came from a human hand. But is it all just exalted philosophy, cathedrals in the air? No, because John anchors it all to the earth, “the word became flesh and lived among us”. Literally, the Word, “pitched his tent among us”, or “lived in our street”, as we might say.

What is the Word? This is not in origin a Jewish or Christian idea. It came from the Greek world, that is from pagan philosophy. The Word according to the Greeks was the underlying principle of creation, the force or reason why everything exists.

But at the time this idea was around there were also Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean world speaking Greek, reading the Scriptures and praying in Greek and getting familiar with these currents of thought. They interpreted the Word as the Divine Wisdom, the feminine figure who appears in parts of the Old Testament as a personification of God’s creative work. The Book of Wisdom says With you is wisdom, she who knows your works and was present when you made the world.”

John is deeply rooted in both Jewish belief and Greek thought. He takes this idea further and says that the Divine Wisdom, the Word, was with God, and was God. The Word is God’s understanding, idea and image of himself.

We can understand this by analogy. We have an idea of ourselves, an image and understanding of who we are, which is part of us. But because we are poor muddled creatures that image of ourselves is incomplete, imperfect, fuzzy. We don’t know ourselves fully.

God’s idea and image of himself is perfect and complete. And because anything that is in God is God, then God’s idea of himself is God, too. The Word was with God and the Word was God. Christian theology came to call the Word “the Son”, the image of himself that is eternally begotten by the Father.

The Word, then, is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God of God, Light of Light, through whom all things were made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the great leap of Christian revelation, astounding, incomprehensible, but true. God, who is wholly Other, has entered creation and anchored himself to the stuff of which it is made, uniting himself to created human nature in one person.

At Bethlehem, in the cave of the Nativity where tradition says that Jesus was born, there is an altar, and beneath the altar, in the floor, a silver star frames the bare rock. And whether the Word first touched the earth right there, in that silver star, or somewhere close by, it is there as a concrete memorial of a concrete fact. The Word touched the earth. The Word lived here.

Jesus shows us what God is like. This is something that was unknown to humanity, until God came to us as one of us. The Father is unknown in himself, but in his Son he has made himself known.

Jesus is the meeting point, the face of God turned towards humanity and the face of humanity turned towards God, in one holy face, one person. The reason why things are is not some random emergence from chaos, but is love. The reason why things are is a call into relationship. Jesus says that if we know him we will know the Father, and that the Father will love us and make his home in us, we in Jesus and Jesus in him.

The universe exists because the love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit is a love which pours itself out in creation, bringing all things to be as sheer gift. That same love reaches out to us in Jesus to redeem and complete the work of creation, so that we can enter into and share that Divine life.

This is why John can say that the Word is the true light who enlightens everyone. He does not reject the insights of other cultures and religions, but sees them as preparation for the full revelation of God in Jesus.

Today we are more familiar than any Christian generation before with world faiths and philosophies, and also with the advances and insights of science.

We can look in all these things for what is good and true and see in them, not rivals or threat to our faith, but things which speak of the Word, the work of Divine Wisdom in creation, which point to the fullness of God in Jesus. The reason why things are is a person, is love, and science and philosophy and culture are most truly what they are meant to be when they find themselves in that larger picture of love.

Christmas is God’s yes” to the world and to all that is good and true in it, and it is our yes” too. Our yes” to the reason why things are. Our yes” to the love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, for Jesus has come to open the way into that love, for us and for all people.

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