Sermon, Christmas I

We were finishing up Mass one day in the Lady Chapel, it was just Brian McCord and me, and I began the Last Gospel as usual, and then I said “There was a man sent from John whose name was God.” I stopped talking, I thought I had said something wrong, and then I could hear faint chuckling behind me, and then I knew I had said something wrong. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John” would have been the more appropriate thing to say. You would think that because I say the Gospel we just heard from St. John every day at the Last Gospel, since I have those words memorized, that I would have lots to say about the text, that I would have somehow gleaned special insight on the theological implications of the richest eighteen verses in Bible. I’m not so sure, though, if only because Blessed John the Apostle and Evangelist said exactly what he wanted to say in those eighteen verses, nothing more and nothing less, and what St. John decided to say is, well, a bit beyond me, and for that matter, a bit beyond almost everybody.

St. John starts off his Gospel with what could be seen as a touch of arrogance. Two books of the Bible open with the words “In the beginning…,” the book of Genesis and this Gospel of John. And by using those words both Moses and John sought to press back the curtain of time and speak of what was before the beginning. That’s hard for us to understand, for you and I are locked in by the human limitations of time. It is hardly possible for us to think of a time when time was not. In the same way we cannot comprehend a future when there will be no time—when clocks and calendars are obsolete, mere relics of the time-life of our humanity. But before time was, God was, and it is God who gave us the gift of time way back then when He said, “Let there be…” It was at that moment of creation that time began. And John tells us that way back then, before the beginning, was the Word.

Matthew Henry told us that “there is nothing we are more sure of than that we think, yet nothing we are more in the dark about than how we think; he asked ‘who can declare the generation of thought in the soul?’ “There is the word uttered, and this is speech, the chief and most natural indication of the mind. And thus Christ is the Word, for by him God has, as St. Paul declared to the Hebrews, in these last days spoken to us. Jesus, this incarnate Word of God, has made God’s mind known to us, as a man’s word or speech makes known his thoughts. Christ is called that wonderful speaker by Daniel, the speaker of things hidden and strange. He is the Word speaking from God to us, and to God for us. John the Baptist, that man sent from God whose name was John, he was the voice, but Christ is the Word…” And that Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.

To try to wrap that event within the limits of human thought is so futile that we can only suggest in our language the mystery and transcendence of God, though St. John took an awfully good swing at it. Our human consideration of this thought-mind-speech-Word of God makes us feel so puny and insignificant that we could be inclined to despair. And, if that’s all there was—if God was only to be thought of as a master watchmaker who created the universe like a finely tooled timepiece and then set that world on a shelf to admire from a distance—then we would be without hope, and God would be without grace. And that’s why the key verse for us in the Christmas season is this: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us;” and that Word become flesh, Jesus, was and is “full of grace and
truth.” In this verse is the miracle of grace that Christmas is all about. This verse is the reason John wrote his Gospel. This is the touchstone of all Christian theology: this Word of God whose hands
spread out the heavens, the mind that ordered the universe, whose creative power established order out of chaos, this Word of God chose to plunge Himself into the arena of human life as you and I live it, and take on Himself the flesh and bones and blood and mortality of our humanity. That the Word was made flesh means that in the midst of the agonies of this life, we are not alone. For God chose in His infinite grace to take flesh from the Virgin Mary and to share in the reality of being human in a world that too often can be described as inhuman. Into our world of tragedies, of broken dreams, of crushed hopes and merciless demands, God came to tie our broken pieces of time back into eternity. Into a world where a madman tried to blow up a plane on Christmas, into that world came the Word of God.

And when the Word was made flesh, St. John saw Him. That Word’s Name is Jesus, His mother’s name is Mary, and John knew them, walked with them, he took Mary into his home after the Crucifixion. John saw the Light that contained all life; in seeing that Light he then knew that he had been all his life walking in darkness, but he also knew that the darkness was being chased away, that the Light Himself had come into the world. John saw the Word of God, and that’s too much for us to understand, but what John said is true and graceful; John beheld the glory of the Word of God, the glory of Jesus the only begotten Son of God, John beheld the One who is grace and truth. John saw Him, and so can we. Thanks be to God.

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1 Response to Sermon, Christmas I

  1. Beautifully written, powerful words — yours and St. John’s. Thank you for putting this on-line where I get to share in it.

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