First Reading Isaiah 52:7–10
Psalm Psalm 98:1–6
Second Reading Hebrews 1:1–6
Gospel John 1:1–18
Gospel – John 1:1–18
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 into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
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. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ” From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Hearing the Word
“The Supreme Communication”
Christmas day celebrates the birth of the child Jesus. He is the Son of God who, in his coming to this world, opted for poor material conditions of a young family looking for a suitable place to stay the night on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The evangelist Luke, whose text we read during the Night and Dawn Christmas Masses, reports this historical context of Jesus’ birth. The third Christmas Mass, celebrated during the day, introduces a broader view on the coming of Jesus presented by the evangelist John. This author invites the readers to contemplate Jesus’ birth in the context of communication between God and his people in the history of salvation.
The passage of Isaiah brings us back to the 6th century BC, to the period of the Babylonian exile. The words of the prophet convey a sense of joy and comfort. Israelites exiled in Babylon were indeed in dire need of such consolation because four decades of captivity had eroded their hope of ever seeing their lost homeland again. The prophet, guided by the divine inspiration, declares to them the joyful message of approaching salvation. He imagines Jerusalem, a city in the mountains of Judah, with its “sentinels” on the walls eagerly waiting for the news from the far-away land of the exile. In a poetic way, Isaiah depicts a sudden appearance of the messenger whose “feet” are “beautiful upon the mountains” because he brings the message of salvation. This herald brings words of “peace”, “good news”, “salvation” and the announcement of God’s reign returning to the beloved city. All these images present the re-establishment of God’s presence in the midst of the people and his reign over them. This is how Isaiah understands salvation.
The vision of God ruling not only in Jerusalem but also “before the eyes of all the nations” makes the motif of comfort and joy universal – all nations shall benefit from this restoration and be placed under God’s rule. The prophet is so certain about this renewal that he describes it as something that has already happened as he calls for celebration even among the ruins: “break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem”. In these few verses, we observe how the future experience of universal salvation is recognizable already in the present time, through an attentive listening to God’s words through the prophet, who call his people to “Listen!” In the eyes of one with deep faith and attentive ear, the future salvation is already present.
The author of the letter to Hebrews also reflects on the event of salvation, which he presents as “purification for sins” through Jesus. He will discuss it extensively throughout the letter alluding to Jesus as the new and faithful high priest (cf. 2:17; 3:1; 4:14). In the retrospective evaluation of the long history of salvation when “God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways”, the author of Hebrews touches upon the basic truth of faith – God indeed communicates with humanity. In the author’s past, this communication took place through visions, dreams, angels and, most importantly, the prophets who delivered God’s word. The author then points to a radical change in the manner of God’s communication, which occurred in “these last days” when God communicated “by a Son”. The absence of the definite article in the Greek text is curious – God speaks through “a Son” and not “the Son”, as might be expected. To understand this, we must take into account that in Greek the definite article serves to identify a specific being, while its absence tends to highlight a particular quality. Thus, the author emphasizes that Jesus, who is undoubtedly “the Son”, is – due to his intimate relationship with the Father – God’s supreme communication. He speaks for God in the clearest and the most direct manner, superior to all other ways God used in the past.
This special and intimate relationship between the Son and the Father finds confirmation in the citation from Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”. Furthermore, the Son is the “firstborn”, the term that implies authority, privilege, and unique dignity leading to him being worshipped even by the angels. With further reference to Jesus as the “heir of all things”, the author presents him as the fulfilment of all God’s promises to humanity. Beginning with the act of creation, which took place “through” him, Jesus remains the most complete reflection of God. With his birth in the human body, this reflection of God became perceptible to human eyes.
The Gospel of John begins with a hymn about God’s communication delivered through his Word. This communication has its roots in the intimate unity between the two since “the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. The Word shaped all that “came into being”, for he was the life and the light. While the “life” is about existence in general, the light serves as a guide providing life with orientation and meaning. This Word “was in the world” through the words of the prophets and other mediators, but not all recognized him. Even “his own people did not accept him” and refused to become God’s children. For this reason, God decided on the final and supreme act of communication announced by the evangelist in the solemn declaration, “the Word became flesh and lived among us”. This act of incarnation of the Word is described through the Greek word that literally means, “to pitch the tent”. Using such a term, John makes a clear allusion to God’s presence among the Israelites journeying through the desert towards the Promised Land. As God was with the Israelites then, so now will God be with the people through his Word dwelling in the midst of humanity. This incarnate word is the “father’s only son”, which makes it clear that the Word is Jesus himself, the “only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart”. In the final verse of his hymn, the author reveals the very purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world – he came to make God known. In his life – beginning with the nativity – Jesus, who alone has seen God, will be revealing the Father to the world fully and truthfully through his words and deeds.
Christmas day liturgy celebrates the gift of God’s revelation to the world and communication with humanity. God communicated in the past promising salvation through the prophets. With Jesus’ coming to the world a new and supreme channel of communication has been established because, from that moment on, God will speak directly through his Son. In Jesus, whom we contemplate today as a helpless child in the manger, the message of salvation announced in the “gospel” of Isaiah finds fulfilment. He is the “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being”. Above all, in him and through him God communicates with us in a direct way because Jesus, as God’s Word incarnate, is God himself present in our midst. We can only respond to this gift joyfully singing with the psalmist, praising God’s “steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel” shown in making himself known to “all the ends of the ear.
Listening to the Word of God
Throughout the ages, direct communication with God seemed far from possible. In our African context, we spoke to God through our ancestors. Our ancestors were the principle mediators between the earthly realm and the divine realm. God was far away beyond our reach, he was thought as dwelling on the mountaintops or clouds in the sky, and his voice resounded in the thunderstorms. This explains why often times we appealed to our ancestors to plead for us before God. It was on rare occasions, when ancestors would fail, that we could address God directly. Any communication from God would take place through these ancestors acting as intermediaries. In fact, our ancestors, when in their flesh, themselves longed to see God.
Today we celebrate God’s unique communication. What our ancestors longed to see, we see in its fullness. God is no longer remote and inaccessible, no longer on the mountains. He now communicates to us directly through Jesus Christ, his Son. God has descended from the mountains bringing the message of salvation. He comes to comfort his people who sincerely seek him. The Gospel tells us of how the word came into existence. God descended from on high to live among us. He humbled himself and took on our human flesh. What a privilege! We now see God’s glory in its fullness for he is present among us.
The coming of God among us in Jesus calls us to an intimate relationship with Him. He offers us the opportunity of becoming his children through faith in his Son. We have heard that he came to his own and his own did not welcome him, but to those who believed in him he gave power to become children of God. In our African cultures, anyone who rejects the message of the father risks being thrown out of the home. Therefore, this supreme communication calls for our acceptance, in order for us to remain in union with the father as his children.
God’s supreme voice is timely in our situation today. He chooses to dwell among us at a time when we are distracted by a number of voices that claim our attention and often divide us. These divisive voices are signs of darkness present in our communities. It is unfortunate that we easily yield to such voices. These voices often belong to our leaders and politicians who call on our tribal and ethnic differences or use economic and social status as fuel for their hurtful rhetoric. Nowadays, the youth are often the flag bearers of their divisive messages and are ready to fight whenever called upon. God’s supreme voice today raises us above the web of all other voices. It summons us into one family as children of the same Father. With Jesus’ presence now among us, we can walk in the light standing boldly for Christian principles that can shape and govern our life according to God’s own will.
A number of us have travelled many miles from cities to commune with our ancestral family members during this festive season. Let us resist the temptation of turning it into a merely social event. Rather let it be a time to strengthen our Christian bonds with our family members, a time to celebrate our togetherness in the faith with our neighbours and ultimately a moment to celebrate God’s presence among us. Let us live in the light so that in and through us, all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.
Do I make an effort to carefully discern and evaluate the various voices that come my way in the course of my daily life?
Do I really see and listen to Jesus as the act of God’s supreme communication?
Response to God
I will make a personal commitment to God that, in this Christmas period, I will live as a child of light reflecting his glory and presence.
Response to your World
I will be an agent of peace by resisting all divisive voices and rhetoric during this Christmas season.
As a group, we gather once more during this festive season and decide on a way to demonstrate publically that Jesus is for us the supreme authority when it comes to discerning and doing the will of God.
O God, you willed to descend from heaven and take on our human nature. Help us, we pray, to recognise your presence among us. May your presence increase our faith and enable us to live as one family. Let your light illumine our hearts and dispel all the voices of darkness around us. We ask this through Christ our Lord who live and reigns with you, one God forever and ever. Amen.