Christmas 2014 – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2014 Christmas – Mass during the day – ABC

Isaiah 57:7-10
Hebrews 1:1-6
John 1:1-18

A word is a very powerful thing! Think of it. When someone gives a word of consolation, our faces light up, a burden seems lifted from our shoulders. Someone offers a word of advice and we see the way again. The confusion and hesitancy has cleared away. We are happy that we can make a decision and move on with our life. Or again, think of other words. Those that hurt, lead to pain and inner suffering. When we hear them, something within dies, life is drawn out of us. We begin to shrivel up. These are words of hate, words of abuse. They strip us of our dignity; they leave us naked and vulnerable. We have no defense. Words, all words have an effect on us. They give life. They give death. They build up or they tear down.

Yet all of us long to hear a word. There is no human being who can live authentically and fully without a word. Children listen for a word from their parents. Teachers wait for a word from their students. Sick people wait for the word from their doctor. Citizens wait for the word from their political leaders. We long for a word. We need a word. And we will keep listening till we hear the right word. The word of truth, the word of life. On this Christmas day, God confirms that the Word himself is the greatest gift. In the end we are because of the Word.

Into a season of many words, of many greetings: into our longing ears a word comes today. It is the day of the Word. For us Christians, Christmas is the festival of the Word. Into the midst of human words with all their treachery and deceit, with all their promises spoken and broken, with all their evocations of dreams unfulfilled; into our attempts at words of love, consolation and encouragement, there comes today the final word. It is a word that will say what we struggle to say. It is not a word of our own making. It is a word of God’s making. It is not a word that is spoken by one of us. Today it is spoken by God. Today our words fall silent as the word of God is heard. It is not mediated by anyone. It is spoken by God himself with his new, fresh human face.

What our hearts have been aching to hear, God has spoken. God has not sent his word on the pages of some book or in the classroom of some great teacher or ruler or elder. He has not spoken it through a representative, an emissary. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, that is what God did in the past. Something new is happening. God has spoken his word to us in a person who is one like us. When God chooses to speak his last and greatest word, he does not do so from a distance from far away. He chooses to speak his word to us as one of our flesh, our brother. He does this so we cannot complain that we do not hear or understand. God will speak in human language. He will teach us not from the top of the mountain, not from tablets of stone, but in a living person, like the one sitting next to us.

Christmas! It so often sends our imagination to the birth of a child. But this morning we are left with much more than a child. Christmas sends us to the heart of God where he speaks his final word about the world. And what is that final word: I want you to share in the same life, creative power and energy that flow between my Son and myself. I want this so much for you that I send him to you. He will speak to you of what passes between us. I send him to you so that you can see his face. It is human, like yours. But when you see it, you will also see my face. For so long you were afraid to look at me. But now you can. You can have a share in the words and life that passes between us. For what I want is you to remember that you are my child too, my offspring.

Christmas! It is about God coming to live with us. He comes not as a casual visitor but a permanent one. When the Gospel says the Word made his dwelling among us, it is really saying in picturesque words: God’s Word tented among us. It is an allusion to the early life of Israel in the desert. When God began to live among his people. There it was in sign, like cloud or a tent of meeting. Today we are saying God’s presence is that presence of one human being to another. Today the meeting takes place in its fullest: God meets humanity, humanity meets God.

There is no more need to guess about our God. To wonder what he looks like. We need only turn to his Son and see and hear words and actions that we can live by. Christmas is about God’s creative power to become human himself. In the story of creation; God spoke over the dust of the earth and with his hands shaped humanity. Today he speaks from his heart and he reveals the inner love and truth that lies there. And when speaks out loud from his heart, his words become a human person. What seems hidden, the heart of God, is now worn on his sleeve. It is public for all to see and to hear.

But if God clothes himself in our flesh and blood, if God becomes visible it not only says that God is willing to take risks with himself, it says also that we must be of great value to be entrusted with the heart of God. When someone entrusts you with their very self, you know that you are accepted and of inestimable worth.

Christmas is more than just a birthday of a child even if humanity’s greatest; it is also the feast of humanity’s full birth. Really humanity is fulfilled today. The very hidden thing we yearn for is offered to us. Good things have come our way before, but today outdoes all those good things. That is what the Gospel means when it says that the Law came through Moses, a good thing, but grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. For today God reveals his human face in human flesh. Our work on Christmas is simple enough: to commit ourselves to be shaped only by God’s Word that is his Son. Our work is simple enough: to embrace our own humanity with all the strength and tenderness that God has done by becoming our flesh. Our work is simple enough: to let our lives shine forth with joy because we have heard and seen the love that forever passes between our Father and his Son, and from today, our Brother forever.

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