Commentary to the CHRISTMAS – DAY MASS
THE TEXT BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPTION OF THE VIDEO COMMENTARY
BY FR. FERNANDO ARMELLINI
Merry Christmas to all.
Let's try to visualize how we will participate in the Eucharistic celebration of Christmas Day. Perhaps we have already participated in the Eucharist of the Midnight Mass. Let's think how we will enter the church amid so many serene, smiling faces of the people who are happy, who are enjoying Christmas music, the lights, the gifts we have received and then, we are now ready for the celebration. We enter the church prepared to listen to the gospel of Christmas, perhaps expecting Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, of the shepherds, but, instead, the liturgy proposes a theological text that is the prologue of the gospel according to John, in which we are presented with an extraordinary, an unheard of message of what the son of Mary came to tell us.
What message does he have to bring us this Christmas? He comes to tell us that our weak, fragile, destined to death existence is involved in an indissoluble love relationship with the immortal God. Indissoluble, because no infidelity, no betrayal of ours can damage this love. This is the great news of Christmas. And, in the prologue of his Gospel, John tells us the story of this incredible love between God and humanity.
Let's hear how the Prologue begins:
“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 came to be through him, and without him, nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The Prologue was chosen as a gospel text for the Christmas Day Mass. It begins with a strange title, attributed to Jesus, to this child who has just been born. In Latin: Verbum. It begins with a strange title, attributed to Jesus, to this child who has just been born. In Latin: Verbum. This title appears only in John. We find it here and in the first letter of John and only once in Revelation.
We are more accustomed to call Jesus: 'Christ', 'Messiah', 'Lord', 'Savior'. But here, instead, he is called 'Verbum', translation of the Greek term 'Logos', that the evangelist uses. 'Logos' means 'Word' (as in our translation). Why is that child called 'Word'? We know what the term 'word' is. It's the way we communicate Why is that child called 'Word'? We know what the 'word' is. It's the way we communicate with others. When we address a word to someone, it means that we want to enter in communication with him or her. We have something to tell that person, something interesting. At Christmas, this "Word" has come from heaven.
Let's take a very simple example. Let's try to imagine the emotion of a girl who has covered the walls of her room with the pictures of the fashion singer of whom she is in love with. At a certain moment, she hears the telephone ringing and recognizes his voice. It is he who calls her, who wants to communicate with her. He wants to meet her. At that moment, she wonders: Is it true or am I dreaming? Will it not be a joke of some friend? At Christmas, we are told that there is a much more important person who wants to enter into a dialogue of love with us.
He is God himself. The eternal. The immortal. The Infinite one. If we do not feel the emotion—like that girl—then we have not understood anything of the joy of Christmas. And the word that is given to us is that child—that frail, weak child, who cries if he is not caressed, if he does not receive the kisses of the 14-year old mother. He will tell us soon, that he is our God, who became one of us. And that child, who still does not speak, speaks with his person:
a God who becomes a child, who becomes small. It is not hard to believe in God, to believe that there is a God who is the origin of everything, that explains the reason of everything created. This is not difficult to believe; it is very reasonable. But to believe that this God is present in our world and wants to find us, wants to talk to us ... and he starts by becoming a child ... this leaves us baffled.
Another important element to keep in mind, to understand the title 'Word' that is given to Jesus: Jesus is the Word. This speaks of God and speaks of the successful person ... speaks of God and his birth. Then, when he grows up, he will speak to us with his whole person: he will speak to us about God and about man. We do not communicate only with our voice; we communicate with our whole person. We speak through our behavior, with the way we look,
with the way we dress ... and also with tattoos, with earrings, when we want to say something, call attention, introduce ourselves, communicate. We also communicate in silence. If, without rancor, I deny a person a greeting, then my silence speaks. It says something.
Everything in that child begins to talk to us. It is a word. Then, when he grows up, he will have many things to tell us about the Father in heaven and about our humanity. Meanwhile, keep this important truth in mind: that child is the Word that God offers to humanity. From the Prologue of his Gospel, John says that the child is the light that shone in the darkness in which humanity was involved. Darkness prevents us from seeing the face of people. It makes people confused with things, with inferior beings. And darkness has enveloped the world before the arrival of that child. People were confused with things. You could face and compare the behavior of people with the attitudes and behaviors they have with things or with animals ... Jesus will even say it in the Gospel: that man is worth less than a sheep. This is the darkness that prevents us from seeing the face of man. It does not allow us to recognize the dignity of the human being.
This light begins to arrive at Christmas and will dissolve this darkness that envelops much of the world. The darkness also exists in the mind and can obfuscate the face of God and make us see him as a severe boss, as a legislator who will punish us if we don’t obey; God as a vigilante. That child is the Word, the light that dispels all this darkness. And darkness cannot dim this light.
At this point in the Prologue, the evangelist interrupts it and introduces a character: the Baptist. Let's hear how he presents it:
“A man named John was sent by God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light but came to testify to the light.”
If a person feels wrapped in a beam of light she or he becomes luminous. In fact, we do not see the light, but the things, the illuminated objects. Jesus will tell his disciples: 'You must be the light of the world. And you will not be shining with your own light, but illuminated by my light. You yourselves will become lighted if you let yourselves be illuminated by my light.
And you must not fight against darkness. It will be enough for your lives to be bright, splendid and, through you, my light will shine. This is how the existence of light is witnessed. One becomes transparent because one has let himself or herself be illuminated by the light of Christ. The Baptist has been enlightened by the light of the Word of God that has come to the world. Illuminated to such a point that his face was so bright that some have even thought that he was the light.
The Baptist immediately clarified this misunderstanding and said: 'I am not the Messiah.' He was not the light. He was a reflection of the true light, of the authentic light, the genuine light that has come to the world as the witness to the light. And the witness is not one who speaks by hearsay, who tells news read in the newspapers or in books. The witness is the one who has been present in an event, who has seen, who has been involved in what has happened. The Baptist is presented as a witness to the light of the Word because he is illuminated by the light. The existence of this new light that has come to the world is undeniable. It is the light of heaven. And this testimony of the Baptist is undeniable.
After this insertion about the Baptist, the Prologue continues and takes up the theme of true light. The Baptist was not the light; genuine, authentic light came into the world. Let's listen to the story of the Prologue:
“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, and yet, the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who welcomed him, he gave power to become children of God, for they believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.”
In our lives, we hear so many words, words that want to be light, a guide for our existence. Human words can be light or darkness, truth or lie, can build love or generate hatred, be a source of life or cause of death. The word that is an authentic light, that makes you see well comes from God and is that child. Then we will see him grow, but keep your eyes fixed on him. He is the light that does not deceive you, that guides you towards love, that guides you towards life. There is no other light like his, it is genuine. The others are half lies; they do not tell the truth about God and about humanity. They do not tell the truth about the reality of the created world.
The Prologue continues to reflect on this Word that is true light, and says that the world has been created well; it has been created to receive this light; it has been done with wisdom. This wisdom of God present in the created things can be received with our intelligence. The Psalm says: "The heavens proclaim the glory of God, the firmament proclaims the works of his hands" (Ps 19:1). Not everyone has accepted this wisdom.
The Prologue says that the world, made for this light, did not recognize him. What does ‘world’ mean? The evangelist understands ‘world’ as that part of humanity who preferred darkness to light, the lie to the truth. It is not only a controversy with that part of humanity who does not accept Christ, it is also a warning for Christians to be attentive because the danger to give assent to false lights also affects those who have become Christians. And now comes the most important verse of this Prologue. It is at the very center.
"But to those who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God.”
Here it is not about adhering to a doctrine, but about accepting this Word, this person. To accept this proposal of the face of God and his proposal of man. And whoever receives this Word is born, not of the blood, not of the will of the flesh, not of the will of man, but generated by God. This is the great news of Christmas. The germ of divine life was introduced into our world, given to all of humanity. God is so in love with this humanity, that he has given them his life, the life of the Eternal. If we did not have this life, we would be destined to death like all the animated creatures we know.
Only man, self-conscious, able to enter into dialogue with God, to respond to his proposal of love, can be given this life. And the Prologue says that that child, this Word came to tell us that God has given us his own life and that it is not a biological life like we have of creation, of nature, but it has been given directly by the Father in heaven.
Now we prepare to listen to another verse that tells us who this Word is. Let's listen:
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.”
We have reached the central point of this Prologue. The central fact of the whole history of humanity: the incarnation of the Son of God. Flesh in the Bible are not the muscles. It is a Semitism to indicate people in all their weakness, in all their fragility. The person who is mortal. The Word has not put on muscles, it is not only human appearance, he does not endorse our flesh as his clothing. He becomes 'flesh', becomes Man, becomes subject to death. All frailty, all weakness and destined for death; becomes one of us. And it is through this flesh, that this God, who became one of us, that we can see the glory of the Father. And, let's say it immediately, this truth is very difficult to accept.
As I said before, believing in the existence of God is not difficult. The difficult thing is to accept that this God is present in that child. If there is something in the Christian faith that seems to clash with human thought, it is, precisely, this mystery of the incarnation. It is unthinkable that an infinitely great God be manifested in a mortal nature, weak as ours. I would say it's good to let these questions out, do not worry ... because if we are not bothered by these questions it means that we have not understood this greatness of God's love.
We are faced with the difficulty of accepting that this infinite distance has been bridged. The Eternal who becomes mortal. The Invisible becomes visible. The Almighty becomes fragile, that needs the caresses of a mother, who needs our love. This is very difficult to accept. It is much easier to accept a God who is in heaven, who gives his laws, who is judge… This is a more rational God, more in line with our reasoning. But a God who becomes a child to speak to us, it is very difficult to accept. “He lived among us.” There is only one answer as how to understand God has become one of us. A God of infinite love. Only the infinite love of God can cover this distance.
And let us also say that because of God’s infinite love, he has filled this distance and has become one of us to show, to be seen. And let's also say, precisely because of this infinite love, He had to reach this option, because beyond that nothing more can be done. Let us also say that, not only did he become one of us, but he has chosen to be a servant of man, to wash people’s feet. And, then, he went even lower. He has become a slave to all and he has donated his life for all until he died on the cross. Beyond that one cannot go. That is how infinite his love for us is. It is this that makes this incarnation believable: God’s infinite love. And since our reasoning cannot get there, the infinite love becomes credible. This is the only reason that can convince us to accept this truth.
"And we have contemplated his glory." In the Old Testament, the glory indicates the manifestation of God's love only if we believe in this infinite love can we accept how reasonable it is that God has arrived at this. And if we accept this whole truth, our life changes: the birth, death, joy, sorrows, delusions, hope, everything is illuminated by the light of this love that gives meaning and a purpose to all our existence and is
"Full of grace and truth,"an important expression in the Old Testament. 'Hesed boemet' = it means kindness and unconditional and faithful love. This is what God comes to tell us in that child: that his love is unconditional, despite our infidelity or betrayals, none of this will affect the love of God. Let's listen as the Prologue continues:
“John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'" From his fullness, we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.”
No one has seen God. Abraham did not see him, Moses has not seen him, the patriarchs have not seen him, because our physical eyes cannot see God, cannot see the invisible. But those who have walked with Jesus of Nazareth along the roads of Palestine have been able to see God. They have touched him, they have heard him because he was made alive in our flesh. We have a text, at the beginning of John's letter where the emotion of John, son of Zebedee, is palpable. John made this experience of touching, of seeing the Word of life who became one of us. We listen to this text together: "This is what has been from the beginning, and what we have heard, and have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked at, and touched with our hands, I mean the Word who is life… The Life made itself known. We have seen eternal life and we bear witness; and we are telling you of it. It was with the Father and us with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And we write this that our joy may be complete" (1 Jn 1: 1-4).
This is the great news that is given to us at Christmas. And also, we can make this experience today to see that invisible face of God. We can contemplate it in the Gospel that presents us to the Word, the Word of God that became one of us. We can contemplate it and seeing it, we see the Father, that God whom no one can see.
I wish you all a beautiful Christmas celebration.