DECEMBER 25, 2011: CHRISTMAS (Eucharist During the Day)
Though Easter is an infinitely more significant feast than Christmas, celebrating Jesus' birth does offer some important insights into our faith. Among other things, it forces us to zero in on Jesus being one of us. If we buy into John's theology, this Galilean carpenter existed as God from all eternity, but at one point in our history he agreed to come to earth and share our human condition. That's why it might be helpful today to examine the human condition which Jesus made his own; a condition which longed for a change, else Jesus' arrival wouldn't have been necessary.
Scholars agree that John the Evangelist basically got his idea about Jesus being the Word of God from the oracles of Deutero-Isaiah, an unnamed prophet active during Israel's 6th century BCE Babylonian Exile: until the Holocaust, the darkest period in Jewish history. The captives were completely helpless. There was no way out. Never again would they see the Holy Land.
Then Deutero-Isaiah arrives, preaching a message at right angles to what the Chosen People expected. No longer was Yahweh angry with them. On the contrary, as the first lines of chapter 40 announce, they were to prepare for a return to Israel. God was going to lead them home. Those in exile had just one problem: how could the prophet be certain about this? Where's the proof that Yahweh will carry through on such good news?
The prophet's answer is classic: We have Yahweh's word on it! Deutero-Isaiah's convinced that once God speaks God's word, that word has an effect. It actually happens. In this case, if Yahweh says we're going home, then start packing. That conviction is the basis for today's first reading. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, 'Your God is King!'"
It not a surprise to biblically-formed people that God's word constantly breaks into their lives. The Hebrews' author begins his work by reminding his audience, "In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets . . . ." But then, as a follower of Jesus, he brings up the basic tenet of all Christian faith. "... In these last days he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being ...."
It doesn't take much for John to take the next theological step. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Like Deutero-Isaiah's word of Yahweh, Jesus is the "... light (shining) in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." By choosing to come on earth, Jesus chose to be God's effective word among us. What he announces about God, he is.
No matter the perks which organized religion can and does provide, our human condition still demands God's word. It alone gives hope in the midst of our hopelessness; it's the force driving us to look beyond the limited horizon which our limited human nature projects; a light in an otherwise dark world.
Deutero-Isaiah and Jesus brought good news only because both were so immersed in our humanity that they knew what we really needed. But there's a "kicker" to this word stuff. As John puts it, "To those who did accept him (Jesus) he gave power to become children of God ... ." Just as Jesus, the son of God, brings God's word to this world, so we, the children of God are obligated to share that same word. The helpless who inhabit our environment should be able to expect our feet to be just as beautiful as those of Deutero-Isaiah and Jesus.