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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Bishop Baron's Advent Reflection: Christmas: St. John's Meaning of Christmas



Your daily Advent reflection...
Christmas
St. John’s Meaning of Christmas
Alleluia! Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate son of God.

We hear at Mass one of the most magnificent passages in the Scriptures, indeed one of the gems of the Western literary tradition: the prologue to the Gospel of John. In many ways, the essential meaning of Christmas is contained in these elegantly crafted lines.

John commences: “In the beginning was the Word…” No first century Jew would have missed the significance of that opening phrase, for the first word of the Hebrew Scriptures, bereshit, means precisely “beginning.” The evangelist is signaling that the story he will unfold is the tale of a new creation, a new beginning. The Word, he tells us, was not only with God from the beginning, but indeed was God.

The entire prologue comes then builds to its climax with the magnificent phrase, “the Word was made flesh and lived among us.” The gnostic temptation has tugged at the Church, on and off, for nearly the past two thousand years. This is the suggestion, common to all forms of puritanism, that the spiritual is attained through a negation of the material. But authentic Christianity, inspired by this stunning claim of St. John, has consistently held off gnosticism, for it knows that the Word of God took to himself a human nature and thereby elevated all of matter and made it a sacrament of the divine presence.

The Greek phrase behind “lived among us” is literally translated as “tabernacled among us” or “pitched his tent among us.” No Jew of John’s time would have missed the wonderful connection implied between Jesus and the temple. According to the book of Exodus, the Ark of the Covenant—the embodiment of Yahweh’s presence—was originally housed in a tent or tabernacle. The evangelist is telling us that now, in the flesh of Jesus, Yahweh has established his definitive tabernacle among us.

All of this sublime theology is John the Evangelist’s great Christmas sermon. I would invite you to return to it often this Christmas season in prayer and meditation.

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