CHRISTMAS DAY 2009
The blog uses the Catholic readings for today
Reading 1, Isaiah 52:7-10
7 How beautiful on the mountains, are the feet of the messenger announcing peace, of the messenger of good news, who proclaims salvation and says to Zion, ‘Your God is king!’
8 The voices of your watchmen! Now they raise their voices, shouting for joy together, for with their own eyes they have seen Yahweh returning to Zion.
9 Break into shouts together, shouts of joy, you ruins of Jerusalem; for Yahweh has consoled his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 Yahweh has bared his holy arm for all the nations to see, and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Gospel, John 1:1-18
1 In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him.
4 What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men;
5 and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.
6 A man came, sent by God. His name was John.
7 He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him.
8 He was not the light, he was to bear witness to the light.
9 The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognise him.
11 He came to his own and his own people did not accept him.
12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name
13 who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself.
14 The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 John witnesses to him. He proclaims: ‘This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.’
16 Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received — one gift replacing another,
17 for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
The “one who brings good news” is one word in Hebrew, “mebashare”, because the herald given the task of bearing good news of victory, from a battlefield to the court, had a distinctive role. Bad news had to be handled more circumspectly. The city of Zion is depicted as waiting for news of the Lord’s battle with the powers of oppression. Instructed by the messenger the watchmen of the city are ready to see the Lord returning in triumph. In the historical return of exiled Jews to Jerusalem, the Lord has demonstrated the power of his arm. Already in this passage, the images of military victory are used to describe the difficult journey of exiled citizens to their homeland. When this passage is linked to the Christmas story all this imagery and its associations are now applied to the birth of Jesus. Here truly is good news of a very secret and surprising nature. God’s victory over evil powers is won by his own laying aside of power in his baby son. His holy arm is the arm of a child. His return is not to the temple on Zion, not yet anyway, but to the insignificant Galilean village of Bethlehem. Yet this is how those exiled from God are to be gathered and brought home. The meanings of the Old Testament words are very rich when applied to the New Testament story of Jesus; their beauty and joy are entirely appropriate on Christmas day.
The John passage reminds us that God is so addicted to communication, he can be called “The Word.” which became “flesh” in Jesus. Some versions now translate this as “became a human being” which misses the point. The Greek word “sarx” means the stuff of which all living things are made. It’s true that Jesus became a man and not a kangaroo, but the word “flesh” speaks of Jesus’ relationship with all the products of evolution: he inherits not only all our transgressions but the whole history of our development.
Meister Eckhart the German theologian asked, “What good is it to me if the Son of God was born in Bethlehem, if he is not born in me today?” He didn’t mean to downgrade the incarnation of the Son of God, but rather to highlight its continuing reality in the rebirth of human beings as children of God, born of God through trust in Jesus. The miracle of Christmas includes our own “divinity”:
“Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth”