Tag Archives: Christmas season

The Adaptable Word

 

The Christmas season is a time to reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation, “The Word was made flesh.” God’s love sent him to us, John writes in his 1st Letter:

“In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.”

St. Maximus the Confessor reflects further on this mystery of love. It’s an adaptable love he says:

“The Word of God, born once in the flesh (such is his kindness and his goodness), is always willing to be born spiritually in those who desire him. In them he is born as an infant as he fashions himself in them by means of their virtues. He reveals himself to the extent that he knows someone is capable of receiving him. He diminishes the revelation of his glory not out of selfishness but because he recognises the capacity and resources of those who desire to see him. Yet, in the transcendence of mystery, he always remains invisible to all.

For this reason the apostle Paul, reflecting on the power of the mystery, said: Jesus Christ, yesterday and today: he remains the same for ever. For he understood the mystery as ever new, never growing old through our understanding of it.”

An adaptable, respectful love. That’s the way Jesus loved us. That’s the way to love others.

 

The Word Made Visible

 

 

John evangelist

 

The Feast of St.John the Apostle (December 27) follows the birth of Jesus because the writings attributed to John– the 4th gospel and letters– treat the great question: Who is Jesus, the child born of Mary, who lived in Nazareth, preached in Galilee and Judea, died and rose again in Jerusalem?

John was one of the first disciples called by Jesus at the Sea of Galilee to bear witness to him; John sat beside him at the Last Supper; he went into the Garden of Gethsemane with him, then stood beside his cross. 

As the gospel reading for his feast reminds us, John saw the empty tomb and recognized Jesus risen from the dead. “‘It is the Lord,’ the other disciples whom Jesus loved said to Peter” on the Lake of Galilee as the Risen Christ appears. (John 21, 7) John has a special role identifying Jesus as human and divine. 

Tradition says John was the last of the apostles to die, and so writings identified with him proclaiming belief in both the divinity and humanity of Jesus had special authority in the early church. 

The gospel of John is assigned as the final gospel for Christmas day: “In the beginning was the Word.” The letters of John read at Mass most of the days after Christmas until the Feast of the Baptism continue to proclaim a theme of the gospel of John, that the Word became flesh, and  uphold the humanity of Jesus against those who deny the possibility that God would take human form. 

We know Jesus Christ through his humanity, just as the apostles did, the Ist Letter of John says. The One we know through his humanity is also the Word of God who is God.

“What was from the beginning,

what we have heard,

what we have seen with our eyes,

what we looked upon

and touched with our hands

concerns the Word of life —

for the life was made visible;

we have seen it and testify to it

and proclaim to you the eternal life

that was with the Father and was made visible to us—

what we have seen and heard

we proclaim now to you.” 1 John 1-4

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus

 

On the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem  a high tower was built in the last century by the Russian government to allow Christian pilgrims an observation point to see the key places associated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Looking westward is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where he was crucified and rose from the dead. Just down below is the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed and was arrested. In the distance to the southeast is Bethlehem where he was born. On the eastern side of the Mount of Olives is the village of Bethany where Jesus stayed when he came to Jerusalem and where he raised Lazarus from the dead. Further east, about 20 miles down the Jordan Valley is where he was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

The tower was built, I understand, for pilgrims who couldn’t always get to all of these places because of age, or the pressure of time or perhaps because it was unsafe to travel to one of these destinations. That was especially true for the 20 mile trip to the Jordan River.

The tower attests the importance of  the journey to the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. The Baptism of Jesus is a mystery that includes all the mysteries of Jesus we celebrate as Christians. That’s why we celebrate it today as we conclude the mysteries of the Christmas season. In our baptism we are brought to share in his baptism and in his life.

In the Jordan River,  God the Father, “a voice from heaven,” proclaimed him “my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1,11) We believe that when we are baptized we become children of God with him, with us he is pleased.

We celebrate that gift today. As we go from church to church, we touch the Holy Water with our hands and bless ourselves, remembering the great gift we have in Jesus Christ. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

 

Mary, the Mother of Jesus


Mary, the mother of Jesus, is an important figure in Advent and Christmas Time. She’s known mostly from events of this time, in  fact. The angel visits her at Nazareth, she visits  her cousin Elizabeth, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the coming of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, the presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple, the finding of the Child Jesus in the temple after his loss for three days. All these events are  recorded in Luke and Matthew’s gospels.

We remember them especially on the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. (January 1st)

The gospels offer only a sketchy profile of Mary because they focus on Jesus, her Son. She’s a witness to his humanity and divinity. “For us and our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.” (Creed)

The Christmas liturgy reminds us that through her, Jesus took “a body truly like our own.” (Collect, Monday of Christmas Time) Jesus “accepted from Mary the frailty of our flesh.” (Collect, Monday of Christmas Time) She’s the way the Word became flesh. The First Letter of John, read in Christmas Time, warns against the denial of this fundamental truth of faith.

By taking a body “truly like our own” and accepting “from Mary the frailty of our flesh,” Jesus humbled himself, assuming the limitations that come from being human. Mary is his way, giving him birth, nursing him as a infant and raising him as a child.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” For 30 years Jesus led a hidden life in the silence of that small town in Galilee. Mary was his companion. “I confess I did not recognize him,” John the Baptist says twice when Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized. (John 1,29-34) His own in Nazareth did not recognize him either.

He went unrecognized, and so did Mary, who shared his hidden life. She performed no miracles, did not publically teach; no angel came again after the first announcement to her.

We can pass over the Hidden Life that Jesus embraced too quickly, I think, even though the Christmas mystery tells us of it. We forget that to be transformed into glory means accepting “the frailty of our flesh,” which  Jesus accepted it to raise it up.

“…though invisible in his divine nature, he has appeared visibly in ours;
and begotten before all ages, he has begun to exist in time;
so that, raising up in himself all that was cast down,
he might restore unity to all creation
and call straying humanity back to the heavenly kingdom.”
(Preface II of the Nativity)

St. Mary Major is the main church in Rome dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. You can visit it in the video above. It’s also called “Bethlehem in Rome” because many of the Christmas mysteries were first celebrated there and relics from Bethlehem were brought to it after the Moslem invasion in the 8th century.

SuperStock_1788-1275[1]The great mosaic of Mary in heaven crowned by Jesus, her Son, stands over the altar in the church as its focal point. She was his companion in his hidden life; he raised her up through the mystery of his resurrection.

The Long Christmas Season

1 Jn 5:5-13
Lk 5:12-16

The Christmas season closes with the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus on Sunday. The season’s already ended for most people, however. The decorations are away. Valentine’s Day is coming up.

But it takes time to celebrate mysteries of God; more than a day or an hour or two. It takes time for the mysteries of God to sink in. And so we prepare for the celebration through the days of Advent. Then on Christmas Day the poor shepherds come from the dark hills to see the Child announced by the angels. A Savior is born for us, a Child is given to us. Yet, as the ancient carol says, “We scarce can take it in.”

The Feast of the Epiphany is a further reminder that the Child is the savior of all nations. He came, not just for one people, but for all. The Magi represent people far away and they bring him their greetings and gifts. Then, they leave to bring back the good news of his birth. That colorful story isn’t over; it’s still unfolding.

The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus may seem like a poor way to end the Christmas season, so far removed from the days and events of Jesus’ birth as it is. But baptism is about birth too, a birth that conquers death.

Jesus Christ “came through water and Blood,” St. John says in his First Letter today. His Spirit is given to us. It’s not enough to just look upon the mystery of the Incarnation. We’re meant to share his life, and baptism is a sign of our union with him.

We need time to understand all this, however. So the Christmas season is a long season. And we’ll celebrate again next year.

Christmas: A Call to Baptism

Matthew’s gospel was the gospel most used for catechesis in the early church. It also plays an important role in the creation of our Christmas season. It gives us the Feast of the Epiphany, for example. Jesus Christ came for the gentiles as well as for the Jews.

I think Matthew’s gospel is also an important source for our upcoming Feast of the Baptism of Jesus which closes the Christmas season. Matthew sees baptism as a way of repentance. That’s how John the Baptist describes it in Matthew’s gospel: “In those days, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming: ‘Repent, the kingdom of God is near.’” (Mt 3,1-2)

When Pharisee and Sadducees come for baptism, John calls them “a brood of vipers” because they presume they are saved as “children of Abraham.” “God is able to raise up from these stones children of Abraham, “ John says to them.

Baptism is not an entitlement. Baptism is a commitment to repentance. That’s important for us to realize too.

But repentance is a difficult path. Can we do it alone?  John continues in Matthew’s gospel with the promise that one more powerful than he is coming. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” When we are baptized into Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit and his fire to continue on the path of repentance.

Christmas is not just for looking at the Child in a manger; it’s a call  to enter into the mystery of Jesus Christ.