by Julian and Maja Drapiewski
We celebrate Christmas today.
After 4 weeks of waiting and preparations, finally the day of Jesus’ birthday is upon us.
But what does it really mean for you?
The time of Christmas focuses Christians on Jesus, born in a poor manger as there was no space for him in any guesthouse or inn.
We are coming in a large numbers crowding churches and chapels all around the world. People are gathering at homes as a family, at the tables with special festive meals and customs. We exchange wishes of prosperity and happiness, but yet it is so easy to miss the point.
Adam Mickiewicz, one of the most profound Polish writers wrote:
“You believe that God has been born in Bethlehem, in the crib?
But you are doomed, you are ruined if he has not been born in you”.
So the deepest sense of Christmas is in the decision to meet God the Saviour in our hearts, and/or in the poorest and the most vulnerable person nearby, who may be as helpless as a new born baby.
Let’s make sure we do not fall in a trap of superficial pleasures and self-indulgence of the festive mood. Let’s us use this opportunity to welcome the newly born child of God in our hearts and homes.
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus.
Come and be born in our hearts!
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Isaiah 52:7-10
How beautiful on the mountains,
are the feet of one who brings good news,
who heralds peace, brings happiness,
and tells Zion,
‘Your God is king!’
Listen! Your watchmen raise their voices,
they shout for joy together,
for they see the Lord face to face,
as he returns to Zion.
Break into shouts of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord is consoling his people,
The Lord bares his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
In this wonderful text the prophet asks us to listen to great news: the LORD is coming to his people! The prophet calls on the watchmen to shout for joy! He even calls on the ruins of Jerusalem to cry out! Why? Because the LORD is consoling his exiled people! The LORD is showing them his loving and saving presence, his awesome mercy! How? Through the sign of a helpless baby lying in a manger. Through a sign that says that God comes to us. That God enters our reality. That God makes himself small for us. He comes as a vulnerable and defenceless babe in his mother’s arms. No pomp, no power! That is why our response is great joy! Salvation is among us in Bethlehem! Our merciful God reigns! The Good News is fulfilled!
LORD, Adonai, I hear your beautiful message echoing down the years! I shout for joy with the watchmen! I cry out with the ruins of Jerusalem! I sing songs of praise in my heart! How amazing your ways! How far beyond me! A helpless baby in a stable is the startling sign of your merciful presence! And seedy shepherds hear your angels sing! How awesome your ways! Your love blazes like a furnace! You choose to become one of us! You enter our worlds as a disadvantaged baby in a young mother’s arms! You become small for us. You let go of pomp and splendour! And so I praise you on this Christmas Day so long foretold. May your promise of new life blossom in my heart. May our minds become one! May your mercy bear fruit in our hearts forever! Alleluia! Amen!
Psalm – Psalm 97(98):1-6
Today we are invited to sing a new song of joy because the LORD, through a new-born baby, has kept his word! Through a new-born baby the LORD has made known his love and his truth! In a stable at Bethlehem the LORD has made known his saving mercy! The LORD has given himself to all of us! And so we should shout out our joy with all the earth! Let us sing songs to our God with the sound of music! Let us sing and dance our praise for the delightful babe resting contentedly in his mother’s arms! Come! Let us rejoice together! Our salvation is here!
LORD, Adonai, I sing a new song of joy to you! I shout for joy with all the earth! Today, you have given yourself to all of us! You are a wonder-worker, the bearer of justice and the bringer of salvation! If I had a harp I would play it for you! If I had a trumpet or a horn I would greet you with the sound of music! I want the whole earth to sing and shout and dance to the glory of your name! May your praise echo on the four winds and may the four corners of the earth glory in your presence! Alleluia! Amen!
2nd Reading – Hebrews 1:1-6
At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is. He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, sustaining the universe by his powerful command; and now that he has destroyed the defilement of sin, he has gone to take his place in heaven at the right hand of divine Majesty. So he is now as far above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name.
God has never said to any angel: You are my Son, today I have become your father; or: I will be a father to him and he a son to me. Again, when he brings the First-Born into the world, he says: Let all the angels of God worship him.
The baby resting in his mother’s arms in a stable at Bethlehem is the radiant light of God’s glory. He is the very reflection of God’s light, the one through whom God speaks completely. He is the firstborn of the world, the one who inherits the cosmos and brings us true peace. He is the Son of God, the one in whom the power of sin is destroyed and mercy made real. He is greater than the angels who worship him. A liberating light shines for us! Come! Let us worship him with the choirs of angels and offer him our heartfelt songs of praise!
Lord Jesus, you are the living light of God’s glory! You are Light-bearer and Peace-bringer! You are God’s living, loving word! You are God-with-us! Firstborn, Son of God, you inherit the cosmos! Lord, you are greater than the angels who sing your glory! Shine your liberating light on us on this hallowed day! Defeat the powers of darkness that torture so many lives! Today I join the choirs of angels and offer you my heartfelt songs of praise! I worship you with bowed head and bended knee, you, the light of the world, the radiance of God’s glory! Alleluia! Amen!
Gospel Reading – John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word:
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.
The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me ranks before me
because he existed before me.’
Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.
Our gospel unfolds the eternal background of the new-born Jesus lovingly held in Mary’s arms. He is the Son of God and Word-made-flesh, full of grace and truth! He is the one who is closest to God’s heart! He is God’s face! He makes the fullness of God’s loving mercy known! Can you see God’s iridescent glory sparkling in the stable at Bethlehem? Can you sense the vast love and compassion hidden in an artless manger? Can you feel the planet dancing because a Child is born? We rejoice! In the new-born Jesus God seeks an intimate relationship with each one of us, an intimate relationship that touches all of creation! Jesus is radiant light for all people! He is the one who opens the way for us. He is now and forever the awesome mark of God’s saving grace and favour. He is divine love made flesh. gifting each one of us with the mercy-power to become children of God. It is the beauty of the incarnation and its possibilities that bring us together at Christmas. As St Athanasius put it, God became human so that we could become divine! Rejoice and be glad and share the good news with people of good will!
Lord, Jesus, I see you lovingly held in Mary’s arms. You are the Son of God and Word-made-flesh! You are the one who is closest to God’s heart, full of grace and truth! You are God’s love made flesh! You are Bringer-of-Mercy and Spring-of-Compassion! In you, as you rest on Mary’s knee, God seeks an intimate relationship with each one of us. In the breath of animals around you, God seeks an intimate relationship with all of creation. Let these relationships bloom this Christmas Day. Draw me into loving union with you, you who are the awesome bearer of God’s merciful grace and favour! You are divine love made flesh! You gift each one of us with the power to become children of God! Lord, grant that I may never stray far from the beauty of your incarnation and its breath-taking possibilities! May I be faithful to you now and forever! Alleluia! Amen!
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
The opening hymn of the fourth gospel is a magnificent statement of faith in the incarnation. It reminds us of the attention paid by the early Christian poets to contemplation of the mystery of the incarnation. It describes in summary the stages in the ‘biography’ of the Word of God, before, during and with creation, in God. In Jesus of Nazareth God became part of human history and human life. The Word became flesh and made it possible for us to contemplate the glory of God. Nothing is alien to God who is within reach of the believer. He has come to dwell in our world and nothing of him is foreign to us. Contemplation of God is possible only by listening to his Word. This is the only way to become the friend of God, who has set up his tent among us. Accepting his Word is the way to become a son of God.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Instead of ‘narrating’ what happened, today’s Gospel ‘contemplates’ the mystery. Instead of speaking about the mystery of God, it enters into the mystery. The incarnation is not recorded as an event of the past, or as something seen from outside. It is celebrated as something that is happening now and it is accepted in faith. This hymn expresses in depth what is awakened in the author when he hears and accepts the mystery, in other words when he adores the Word with his mind and receives it in his heart. By introducing his Gospel with this hymn, which is an authentic ‘biography’ of the Word incarnate, John indicates the basic attitude his readers should adopt – adoration of an incomprehensible mystery which is grasped, however, by those who contemplate it in gratitude.
To make it fit in better with his account, John modifies the original poem with some additions of his own. The most obvious of these, easily identified by its prosaic style, is the passage about John the Baptist (1,6 – 8.15), who is subordinate to the Word as his witness. Less obvious additions are verses 12-13 in which he explains how men become children of God, verse 16 which comments on the superabundance of grace, and also verses 17-18.
The hymn begins at the absolute beginning reserved exclusively to God, at the threshold where there is neither time nor space (1, 1-3). The Word existed before everything else, and then everything else exists through the Word. After placing the beginning of the story of Jesus in God, before all creation, the canticle passes to contemplation of the relationship between the Word and the world of mankind, the most important part of creation, the reason for the incarnation and the place where the Word becomes incarnate (1, 4-5). A first insertion (1, 6-8) places the revelation of the Word in a precise historical context. John the Baptist was not the light but he came to bear witness on behalf of the Word. The canticle takes up again the theme of incarnation and speaks of the ‘acceptance ‘of the Word on the part of men (1, 9-13). In verse 14 the canticle reaches its climax: the divine Word made flesh, who exists in God, came to dwell among men so that they could ‘see’ his glory as the Son of the Father. The canticle quotes in his favour the testimony of the Baptist, his spokesperson (1,15), and a profession of faith of the community (1,16-18) which confirms the historicity of the manifestation of the Word incarnate and the saving power which is his alone. The summary is dense and could not be more complete. These are truths that are proclaimed better by prayer than by speculation.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
We, the believers of today, need to rediscover the reasons for celebrating the incarnation. We do not have to search too hard to realize that many today do not know why we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Do we ourselves know? We are talking about something that happened two thousand years ago. If our Christmas celebrations do not give us one more reason to be better, to become better people, then we have not really celebrated the nativity, and have not understood its true meaning. If recalling with wonder that our God has become one of us, does not enlighten us and encourage us to become more like him, then our feast and the happy moments we enjoy are of no benefit to us. It means we have celebrated the birth of Jesus like pagans, like so many of our contemporaries who do not know or have forgotten the real reason for their joy.
We are coming to the end of a year which may not have lived up to our highest expectations. Still, it is easier for us at this time of the year to be filled with good intentions, to feel more love for our families and to be less demanding of others. We all regret that we have not become better than we are. But it is also true, unfortunately, that much of what we see around us, in our families, in our world and in our hearts, does not give us great reason to hope for that improvement.
Celebrating Christmas should help us to understand that we have no right to lose trust in a better family, a better world, in ourselves and in the possibility of our getting better. If God trusted us enough to become one of us, a child, a man like us, a citizen of our world, how can we fail to appreciate the way that God chose to come to meet us? If we gave God sufficient motive to become like us in our humanity, why should we not have confidence in ourselves? We have good reason to encourage us to become more human, more like God. When God became man, he restored our faith in humanity, in the world and in ourselves, not because we are good, but because God came into our world as a man to make it possible for us to be good and to be happy.
There is no reason for us to go against God’s decision. If we lose hope in mankind, and renounce the world or ourselves, we are losing hope in God and refusing to recognise him as man. If he did not hesitate to become man in order to come close to us, then his humanity cannot be an excuse or an obstacle that hinders us from finding him. If living in this world was the way God chose to be among us, this world should not take from us the joy of being with the Lord. If the human heart was not an obstacle to God’s becoming man, neither should it be for any of us who are believers. Surely this is reason for wonder and amazement, for contemplation and celebration. God has come so close to us that everything in the world and everything of man is a way of access to him. We do not have to stop being human to possess God, or to live like God. This is, indeed, good reason for joy and hope.
Contemplating God’s incarnation gives us another reason for hope. The very fact that God has become human like us, should make us understand in our hearts, with those reasons that only the heart can comprehend, that to be human is to be a sharer in the divine, to defend mankind is to defend God, that to encounter man can mean encountering God. If we do not succeed, is it not because it is impossible, but, rather, because we are not ready to look for God in man, who is the only true image of God. There is no reason why we who believe in the incarnation can be insensitive to our neighbour or, worse still, in some way inhuman. We know only too well that not all people are worthy of trust, but the fact remains that, despite everything, God has put his trust in humanity – and that includes us, obviously! If we reflect more on this truth, we will marvel at the wonder of God and we will have good reason to make ourselves better people and make our world a better world.
Christians can do more to change the world by promoting trust among people and openness to others, by combating indifference or fear of the unknown, than civil authorities can do by making and enforcing laws, or religious authorities by teaching. Sadly we have changed our world, the world into which God was born as a child, into a world of distrust, coldness, even envy and terror. We have done this whenever we have allowed the attitudes of Cain to grow in our hearts, attitudes of mistrust, fear of our neighbour, disowning our brother. If we fail to see our neighbour as a brother, it is logical to consider him an enemy and want him to disappear from our lives or to silence him. We do not need to kill him. It is enough to treat him with indifference.
The way to resist these tendencies is by making space in our lives for God who is coming into our world. We should have a bit more trust in other people. In this way we make God more visible, nearer to us and more accessible to others. This is another good reason to thank God for the incarnation and to celebrate it. It is reason enough for us to live the whole of our lives as our Christmas, our continual encounter with God. The gospel hymn reminds us that those who accepted the Word accepted a man, and in doing so they received power to become children of God.
Nevertheless, it is easy for us to make the mistake of finding our happiness in the gifts we receive or in the family relationships we enjoy. This kind of happiness does not last very long. The happiness we enjoy when we discover God, when we find him in this world, among men, is a happiness that can never end. It is renewed day by day, for it is the happiness given to us by God when he became one of us. This is the happiness we receive when we no longer look upon our neighbour as a possible rival, but look into his heart and see there the image of God. This is what makes it possible for us to celebrate the incarnation as believers – being reconciled with others and contemplating God who became reconciled with mankind by becoming one of us. God’s incarnation can be fittingly celebrated by people who know the reason for their joy and put their hope in becoming more human, more like our God.