Christmas Day 2012 – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2012

Isaiah 52:7–10
Hebrews 1:1–6
John 1:1–18

Christmas Day is known for its singing. Perhaps more than another Christian feast, Christmas has generated an abundance of music from Gregorian chants to hymns and carols. Joyful singing is the mark of the day. Christmas concerts are a staple of the season. The prophet Isaiah today rightfully initiates this joyful sound. And the music begins with the sound of running feet,  with a messenger running with glad tidings. The messenger carries a word, a word of peace, a word of salvation; finally a word that says, “Your God is King!”  Simply put, your God has won the victory. It is as though out there somewhere something desperate has been going on and now we hear of resolution and victory. For the prophet it is the ruined city of Jerusalem that hears the sound of the feet of the messengers and her watchmen are the first to hear the news and raise the shout of joy. Then suddenly we realize that the good news is not just about something happening out there. The good news, the news of peace, is about a city in ruins. It’s restoration is at hand. The city is to be redeemed from its past. The city is the subject of God’s victory. And the victory: pure presence, the Lord is come, has come! The community in Zion is the one being told to stand up and sing because your King is coming. For the Jerusalem of the prophet it means that the exile is over and God is leading the people back. Mother and children are to be reunited. And the messenger’s word is that God is making this homecoming possible. God is calling Jerusalem to sing for this unexpected and wonderful meeting that is about to take place. God is acting on Jerusalem’s behalf, he is showing his power for her sake. So break out together in song the messenger says. This is not a victory happening out there, it is happening in front of your very eyes. Restoration, redemption, comfort, salvation, peace. This is the cause of the joy; this is what leads to singing and caroling. We need only listen to the message and open our eyes.

 The prophet has been telling us all through Advent, Zion, your God is coming! And so today we  remember this God who comes and who has made his dwelling among us. The image in John’s gospel behind this simple statement of God coming and dwelling among us is clearer if we read it as “And the Word of God pitched his tent among us.” Long before God dwelt in a temple in Jerusalem, he dwelt in a tent as his people wandered around the desert and began to take root in the Promised Land. But today we remember that dwelling in a desert tent or in the Jerusalem temple was not the final dwelling of God. Today our sole task of remembering is to say again the Word of God became flesh and in the flesh he pitched his tent among us. Today we remember that God began a new and unheard of kind of dwelling place, God in human flesh, God in a body just like yours and mine.

 Today the messenger about the God who has come is the evangelist John. The prologue to his gospel that we have heard has a distinctive name for this God who has come. He calls him the Word. And John traces his history for us. This Word of God is there before creation. He is with God the creator; creation happens through this Word. Then this Word God utters takes on the human flesh with the frailty we know so well. But there is a clear purpose for the coming of this Word into world. His visiting, his setting up tent has a purpose. It is so that those who hear this Word and say yes to it can become children of the same God with whom the Word lives. God’s Word comes into the world but it also experiences rejection, suffering and death. But he has effected a change. We have been restored and renewed; we have become children of the living God. And now the Word has returned to “the Father’s side” as John put’s it. A lovely  description of heaven: the Father’s side. The Word of God comes, speaks, establishes a relationship between us in the world and himself and then the Word brings his human flesh back home to be with the Father and with his flesh he brings u s into that same intimacy.

 John begins his Gospel with the phrase, “In the beginning was the word.” Creation began through a word, an utterance. Now a new beginning a new creation is offered as the Word takes up dwelling with us in human flesh. The coming of the Word is the coming of new life. As the gospel puts it, with the coming of God’s word true light has entered the world. Like the first word of creation that challenged darkness and night, so the Word that comes bares his arm in the face of the world’s darkness, throws light into it and makes sure it stays. John the Baptist is the first witness that God has sent this light and it is not about to be dispersed.

 The Word comes as on the first day of creation and brings light into the world. That is the victory won that the messenger in Isaiah is carrying to us. Darkness is over. Darkness among us humans is over. There is a flesh among us now, a body, that is filled with light—the Son of the Father, the refulgence of the Father’s glory, as the Letter to the Hebrews expresses it today. God’s light from the first day is back in our midst in a new and vibrant way and the gospel says, it is not going out. And let us not think that it is not going out because I am going to make sure it stays on. No, this light is a gift from the Father’s side. It will always remain a gift. Our choice is to accept it and live in it and with it—to enter into it.

 This Mass of Christmas Day with its proclamation of John’s Gospel on the Word coming into the world is traditionally heard in the full light of day. And it should be. It takes us far beyond any romanticized view of midnight births, children in crib and parents in a lowly stable and angels singing. Instead it draws us into the cosmic dimensions of the Word made flesh. It pulls us into the larger picture of creation itself, into the cosmos for which our Christ is also the originating Word. The flesh our Christ embraced was already being shaped by him at the beginning. The psalm we sang as our response to Isaiah’s call to break into song spoke of all the ends of the earth seeing God’s power. The flesh of the Christ born cannot be kept in his mother’s arms. It is a new flesh for the life of the whole world. The coming of the Word of God in human flesh is a beginning of a new chapter for humanity and the world it inhabits.

 Christmas means singing because the most profound intimacy there is, the intimacy in the heart of God, is now open to me, to us. The intimacy of the Father and the Son is spoken into the world in the Word made flesh. And that word of the Father had as his mission to bring us into that same intimacy; we are to abide in Jesus and the Father. The mystery of Christmas is that the Father’s Son leaves the Father’s side, his heart to become our flesh, so that in turn we in our flesh can abide with the Son in the Father’s heart.

 Our world may look like it is caught in darkness. The tragedy of Newtown, CT, the ruins of the relationships of those living in the Holy Land, the dark cloud that hangs over most of the Middle East, the violence that rings out in our own streets, the acrimony of our human words tossed to one another, the consumerism that imbalances the order of justice, the abuse of religion into fundamentalism….all this darkness may very well be overwhelming. But it is precisely in the midst of all this that we say there is light, there is healing and restoration because our God has come. To think and worse believe that all darkness is the real order of the day, is to say there is no Christmas, there is no light. The model for Christmas day is the same as for Advent, John the Baptist. I know that I am not the light, but I will tell you till my dying day the light has come. For those who walk in this light the unspeakable hope of living forever in the heart of God with his Son his been fulfilled. O Happy Day—humanity has been embraced, held close and kissed by the Father of life and love.

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