Christmas 1

When I was a seminarian at the Church of the Ascension & St. Agnes, I heard the Last Gospel (and therefore the prologue of John) a lot, as all of you have over the last several years.  Fr. Lane didn’t say it too often – he didn’t like the Last Gospel or birettas for that matter – but Bishop Montgomery said it after every Mass, as I remember, and apparently he could recite it in French as well.  Ascension & St. Agnes didn’t have Prayer Cards on the altar, and so Bishop Montgomery didn’t have a liturgical cheat-sheet like I do; the Bishop said the Last Gospel from memory, counting off each phrase on his fingers.  The Last Gospel wasn’t always part of the Mass itself, it started off as a private devotion.  On the way back to the sacristy after the Dismissal, the priest would recite it under his breath as a reminder of the great mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus.  After a few decades of this, people started to wonder what Father was mumbling about after the Mass, and the public recitation of the prologue of John at the conclusion of the Mass began to creep into use.

 

The Gospel for the Sunday after Christmas is always the prologue of John; the Last Gospel cuts off two verses short.  Because we’re still in the Christmas season, this reading is sort of like John’s take on Christmas, on Jesus being born for us, for our sake and for our salvation.

 

But instead of mangers and shepherds and angels and the like, we get, essentially, a mystic poem.

“John takes us back to the beginning.  He echoes the words from the book of Genesis: In the beginning God created; God moved over the chaos and darkness and said, “Let there be light.”  In John’s gospel, from the very beginning was the Word.  The God who moved over the face of the deep, over the darkness, who spoke and said “let there be light,” this same God who was from the beginning and spoke that Word, this same God became flesh and blood and dwelt among us.  John says, “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.”  The God who takes on our flesh does not ignore the darkness but shines in the very midst of it.”[1]

 

If you’ve ever been with us at the 6pm Family Mass on Christmas Eve, then you’ve seen the frantic act of attempting to set up the creche while the hymn Once in royal David’s city acts as a countdown clock.  One year I was handed the angel and forgot where she went until a four year old told me that she hangs on a little hook on the front of the barn.  This year a little boy didn’t want to give me a sheep, and I was totally ready to just let him take it with him, but he did finally hand it up to me.  The baby Jesus is supposed to be the last figure placed in the creche, but it never happens that way – I just sort of get each thing as it comes.  Our baby Jesus is tiny in scale, even compared to the figures around it, and I hope that serves as a reminder of how vulnerable God was willing to become, the risk God took, the risk of Christmas.  At the creche, we’re reminded of the tininess of the baby Jesus.

 

But then comes the first Sunday after Christmas and the prologue of John, and we’re reminded now of the immensity of Jesus, the very Word of God.  ‘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 were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

 

That’s a massive claim John is making about a person, a person he knew and ate lunch with and might still owe him 20 bucks.  But it’s the same claim we make today, that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, that we behold His glory, that life itself is possible only through Him.

 

We make that claim at the end of every Mass, that God Himself set up shop here on earth to free us from the darkness that we ourselves could not overcome.  May the light and life and glory of Christ shine for you this Christmas season.

[1] The Rev. William M. Thigpen: http://day1.org/1676-christmastide_a_reminder_where_our_hearts_belong

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