CHRISTMAS DAY MASS 2016
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Isa 52:7-10; Ps 98:1-6; Heb 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
Christmas is finally here! It is a time to relax, reflect, and savour the moment of the season. It is a time to enjoy family and friends. It is a time share gifts of love. It is the one day of the year when “peace on earth, good will to all people” can seem to be a reality.
In the First Reading, Isaiah foretells Israel’s liberation from captivity and exile in Babylon. He envisions a triumphant homecoming to Zion marked by joyful singing. The new song in today’s Psalm is a victory hymn to the marvellous deeds done by our God and King. Both the prophet and psalmist sing of God’s power and salvation.
There are four Masses composed for Christmas Day, which really shows how important this feast is to the Church. The first three, the Vigil, Night Mass and Mass at Dawn all use the Nativity story that we are so familiar with regarding the birth of Christ. The fourth, the one we are celebrating during the day today, does not tell that story. Instead, it draws from the Gospel of St. John, written a decade or so after the other three Gospels, and which takes for granted the birth narrative. This, for St. John, is the Christmas story and it is set in the context of creation, ‘In the beginning’.
John shows us that Creation is not an event of the past, but the ongoing life of God with his people. What this Gospel does, is raise the story of Christ’s birth to the level of symbol and looks at the theological meaning behind the Incarnation, the becoming human, of Jesus.
That is the truth of Christmas for us. It is also the Christmas truth for the person living next door, for those we love, for those who are like us and those who are different, for the stranger, and for our enemies. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
The beginning of John’s Gospel is exceptionally poetic in its language. John establishes the divine origin of Jesus and then, he moves into the human origin of Jesus. But again, he does not tell a story as do Matthew and Luke, but he talks about Jesus coming into the world as light, a theme which was often in Isaiah when Isaiah talked about a Messiah.
John treats John the Baptist very quickly, only saying that his purpose was to let people know that the light was soon coming. And this light comes into the world as a human being. Before Jesus they only had the law, but now, John says, with the light they will be able to see that they also have grace and truth, and he says, the way we come to know God, because no one has ever seen God, is to see Jesus: God made visible. If you walk around a candle, it sheds light in all directions. John is very clear that Jesus is ‘the true light, which enlightens everyone’.
The Light that is Christ shines in the darkness of our world. It is a light that cannot be overcome because it represents the ultimate values of Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Justice and Love, Compassion and Fellowship, Freedom and Peace.
So, why do we celebrate Christmas? It is more than the birth of Jesus. It is a celebration of God with us: Emmanuel! It is the realization that God’s love and faithfulness dwells among us. It is a sign that we are to carry that love and faithfulness to others. Like the Baptist, we, too, are to witness to, God’s living, breathing Word.
So it is significant that this fourth Mass of Christmas puts a perspective on the birth of Christ that has made this prologue to St John’s Gospel one of the most stirring and beautiful documents in the Bible. It may not have the sentimentality and story line of the other two Evangelists, but it can make us better understand why Jesus is the true light and why his coming into the world today is such an important event and always will be so.
May the Light that is Christ shine upon you, and the peace of the Christ Child be yours this Christmas!