Merry Christmas! Welcome to high summer in
Mark’s, the first one written, focuses the beginning on the baptism, the public life of Jesus, His public ministry, beginning with His baptism in the Jordan, the first time the Triune God is revealed. For Mark, the most important event is the baptism, and then we continue from there.
Matthew and Luke, written later, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, feel that including the wonderful sections called the infancy narratives, the stories of the birth, would be a great asset to people to understand more and more of the divinity of Jesus, of the wonder of His mission, how from the very beginning of His visible life on earth, the Father’s presence was made manifest, and His destiny was revealed even by the very gifts that the wise men brought.
And then we have John, the last of the Gospels, written after more prayer, more reflection, more consideration of exactly who Jesus is. The event that’s significant for John is the beginning, the beginning without the beginning, when the Word was with God: Jesus Himself, the second person of the Trinity, reigning in splendor with the Triune God from the beginning. He is the source of Life, He is the source of Light, He is the source of all that is. Everything that exists came to be through Him.
John, in a certain way, is the most majestic of the Gospels
in the proclamation of the sovereign Divinity of Jesus Himself. And the Church
chooses John’s Gospel for the Mass of Christmas Day, reminding us exactly Who it is that
was born in that little manger in
“Who do men say that I am? Some say Elijah, some say one of the Prophets. But you, who do you say that I am?” It doesn’t matter what everybody else says. When you stand before the throne on judgment day they don’t take a poll. Some of us probably wish they would. But they don’t. Every individual’s response to “Who do you say that I am”, and then how did you choose to live that, will determine what happens on that day. John in his prologue makes it clear Who Jesus is.
The first several centuries of the Church’s life saw raging controversies about exactly what do we say about Jesus. The heresies tended to land on opposite ends of the spectrum. He’s divine but not human, He’s human but not divine, back and forth, back and forth. And, for those who are concerned about the clergy scandals today, if you look at the life of the Church, you’ll find that almost every major heresy in the Church was started by either a priest or a bishop, so it’s really not any worse now than it’s been in a long time, but they were at least well-intentioned.
Arias, the priest who taught, “Well, He’s kind of more than human, but He’s not God,” is the more popular heresy that’s being resurrected today. And many theologians once again are denying the divinity of Jesus. The problem, if you take away the divinity of Jesus, besides the radical mess it makes out of reality, is that it makes Christianity essentially idolatry. If Jesus Christ is not God, then surrendering your life to Him is the most horrendous idolatry you can do, because you are giving to a man what only God Himself deserves, your absolute unquestioned and total obedience.
To deny the Divinity is the most horrendous assault possible because it makes us all idolaters. John makes the strongest possible case: “The Word was God.” He is fully human, like us in all things but sin, and He has every perfection, every divine attribute. Jesus is omniscient. What does that mean? It means that every item of data capable of being known since the beginning or through the end of the universe is spontaneously, completely known to Him immediately. Which not only refers to the quantum state of every atom in the universe, but what’s going on in our hearts at any given moment all the time.
Lying to Jesus in prayer or concealing our hearts from Him is really world-class stupid because He knows exactly what is in our heart and has known from the very beginning. This is why being honest when we pray is such a good idea, because you can’t fake Him out. He knows exactly what’s going on in our hearts. That’s why when we get on our knees before Him, to be honest before Him is the only thing that makes sense, because of who He is and exactly what He knows.
He is omnipresent, everywhere all the time. He is
omnipotent. When the child was born in the manger, as He looked up into His
mother’s eyes, with His little finger at the same time He was keeping the Milky
Way spinning. He was equally aware of what was going on in
We see the beginning of that in
The prayers of the Christmas Mass describe this as the beginning of our redemption. It was the Second Person of the Trinity taking to Himself a human nature that began what is amazingly completed in a certain way on the cross and in the tomb, and the Holy One rises in splendor. And as we celebrate the prototype feast of the Incarnation, the Mass of Christ, He invites us to see what He has done because He loves us so much, and not to simply say, “Thanks, that’s historically interesting, and I’m on my way.” But to stop and say, “If the Triune God does such an intervention specifically for you, how much attention should you pay to that?” If the angels rejoice, if these pagan magi, who were not even Jews, come from afar because of the wonder of the birth of a king, how much more should we, who know Who He is, respond to His invitation today to make Him first.
How much more should we offer Him gifts, not of gold and frankincense and myrrh, but the one gift that really excites Him, the gift of our hearts laid at the foot of His throne? How much more should we let Him reign since we know who He is? Today the grace that rests on this day is not surprisingly the grace of deeper union with the person of Jesus Himself, a deeper awareness and experience of His sacred humanity and of His sacred divinity, that Jesus would be more real to us as we celebrate the wonder of His birth. And the simple acid test for ‘is Jesus as real to us as He needs to be?’ - is to stop and ask yourself: Is the person of Jesus Christ more real to you than any other person in your life? Would it be easier for you to believe that He does not exist, or easier for you to believe that the person sitting next to you doesn’t exist. The depth of union possible with Him exceeds what we can experience with any other human. because the most that they can do is love us from the outside. The most He can do is burn in our hearts with the same fire that brought the universe into being; which is what He wants to do.
The gift of union that He offers us today is infinitely more valuable that any of the gifts that were offered to Him as that little child. And like little children, many of whom either last night or this morning staring at gifts under the Christmas tree, momentarily come to a full stop because- ‘there’s so many, what do I do first, I don’t even know.’ How many remember having that experience? I remember coming down Christmas after Christmas to find my younger brothers had opened my presents. And it was Christmas Day, so I couldn’t even smack ‘em! “Oh Ed, you got a really cool microscope!” “Thanks for telling me, hmmmmm”. So much. Think of the gifts.
But what’s the gift that each of our hearts actually longs for? Love and joy and peace. And where do we get it? From union with Jesus Himself. So the ultimate gift is before us, not even wrapped, standing before us with arms extended saying, ‘You want more, here I am, what do you want to do?’
“If you seek Me with all your heart, you will find Me.” If our hearts are seeking everything else, then how much of Him we will find will be limited to the extent that He is not the focus. But on this Christmas Day let us plead with Him for the grace to seek Him with all our hearts. The love and the joy and the peace that each one of us longs for is only perfectly accomplished when we give ourselves unreservedly in union with Jesus Himself. And so, on this holy Christmas morning, let us stand and offer ourselves to the Christ who is our Greatest Gift.