Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Day (Gospel: John 1:1-18) The dignity of the flesh

Loughrea Cathedral, Loughrea, Ireland

Several years ago on Christmas day, after I had celebrated the two morning masses, I went to visit some friends, took a short walk and then went back to my house looking forward to a nap, as I was exhausted. When I opened the front door, I was horrified to see water pouring down through the ceiling. The pipes had burst! So I spent most of the rest of the day trying to mop up the house. Compared to many people I know I got away lightly, but it still did a lot of damage. However, in spite of the damage, one of the things it made me realise was that you don’t really need very much. I still got a Christmas dinner, I had a place to stay and I was warm enough. What more could I ask for? We will always have inconvenience and problems, but if we have the basics we are ok and most of us have a lot more than just the basics.

One of the things that I find beautiful about the feast of Christmas is what the feast says about us as human beings. God didn’t sort everything out before He took on human flesh and came among us. He came into all the inconvenience, injustice and chaos that is all around us all the time and he was born into a human family with all the ups and downs that goes with any family. Mary and Joseph were away from home because of the census that was being taken and then Mary ended up having to give birth in a far from ideal place: a stable or cave. It must have been very upsetting. Soon afterwards they had to flee the country as refugees. There were difficulties from the start, and yet God was happy to come right into the middle of all that.

Perhaps what is easiest to overlook is the significance of God taking on flesh. He didn’t take on the nature of an animal, or of an angel, but of a human being. We are not animals, but we are not angels either and we are not meant to be. The Word became flesh, and that tells us that we are good as we are. That doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t try to improve, but we are meant to be ‘flesh’. I think many of us have grown up with the idea that spirit is good, but flesh and all to do with it is bad. However, that is not what God teaches us; in fact He is telling us the complete opposite by taking on human flesh. This is how we are meant to be and not only that but in our flesh, as we are, we imitate God, especially in the way we love.

The beginning of John’s Gospel, which we read on Christmas morning, tells us a few wonderful things. It is speaking about the person of Jesus, God the Son, which it calls the Word. It says that the eternal Word—who becomes Jesus—was there from the beginning. God the Son has always been there. It also says that apart from him we would not exist at all. We only have life because He is there, which also means that our life has no meaning apart from him. Then it says a most encouraging thing for the times that we live in. It says that Jesus (the Word) is the Light that shines in the darkness and ‘the darkness could not overcome this light’. In other words, no matter what happens in the world around us, no matter how much evil there appears to be, it will never be able to overcome Jesus, who is God. God is stronger. God will have the last say. Everything is subject to him.

In the book of Revelation Jesus says,

I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I was dead, but now I am to live forever and ever. I hold the keys of death and of the underworld (Rev 1:17b-18).

All things are subject to God and yet he was pleased to come among us as one of us, to teach us about God, about the afterlife, about how we should live and to die for us, in order to restore God’s original plan for us, which was for eternal happiness with him when we die. If God was prepared to come among us in this way, it means that we must have enormous worth, or value, in his eyes. This also means that we are not just here by accident, but for a definite reason.

So although the world around us may seem to have lost its way, it has not. God doesn’t need to make it all perfect to be with us. He didn’t when Jesus was born and He doesn’t have to now either. Instead He shows us a different way; the way of love and the way of sacrifice, which may seem to be insignificant, but is in fact the more powerful way. Earthly rulers need to show how strong they are, but God does not.  God is powerful enough to be able to work quietly in the background, mostly unnoticed. ‘He came among his own and his own didn’t recognise him.’ It didn’t matter and it still doesn’t matter, because He is with us no matter what and He goes on teaching us no matter what. He will continue to teach anyone who is willing to listen, that we were created by God and at the end of our time on earth we will return to God unless we reject him. That is the purpose of our life and the reason why we are here.  For our time on earth we just do our best to follow the path that He points out to us and that is the path of love and service which imitates him more than any other way.

The Word was made flesh and lived among us.

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