The Gospel of John has no shepherds directed by angels nor magi guided by a star. There is no baby born to bewildered parents. Instead, we are given what seems closer to a God’s eye view of the Christmas story. The eternal Word of God, the One through whom all things were made and by whom all things are sustained, came into the world, becoming flesh and blood and living among us, in the form of Jesus Christ. The details of how it all came about seem not to matter much to John the Evangelist, the mystic who seems more interested in what it all means.
In these last days, according to the letter to the Hebrews, God has spoken to us by a Son, who is the reflection of God’s glory and bears the exact imprint of God’s very being, showing us what God is like. The apostle Paul’s letter to Titus tells us that the gentle kind goodness of God appeared when Jesus came to us out of love for humanity.
Jesus did not only bring the grace of God closer to us, he raised our fallen humanity towards God, restoring our dignity, giving us a larger perspective on our lives. Jesus, as the True Light which enlightens everyone, showed us what it looks like when a human being is fully alive in relation to God and to the world.
The story is not all goodness and light, however. The Evangelist John quickly reminds us of the darkness lurking not far away. There is a darkness in the world that does not understand the light, and does not welcome it. Jesus brought his light into that darkness, and the darkness did not overcome his light, yet the darkness persists, and there are places in the world that seem all but entirely enshrouded by it.
The True Light that enlightens everyone provides light to guide us towards the fullness of life. That light also reveals what might be hiding in the darkness within us, and that truth is not as comfortable. We don’t necessarily want our selfishness and less noble tendencies exposed, not even to our own view. Jesus revealed hypocrisy when he encountered it, exposed corruption and greed and violent oppression, and those who did not want his light quickly came to hate him for it.
Many were not able to recognize or did not want to accept the One through whom their very life came into being. Many still turn from the light he brought into the world, and so cruelty and hatred and oppression persist and continue to inflict misery and suffering on many people.
The Evangelist reassures us that some did receive Jesus when he came into their lives, did put their trust in the truth of who he was, and did experience a kind of rebirth, being enabled to live as children of God, with the grace and truth that they found so fully expressed in Jesus. There are some who do so still today, and their lives are truly beautiful.
The letter to Titus tells us that those who are saved from the worst of themselves by receiving the mercy of God brought to them in Jesus are renewed by the Holy Spirit poured out abundantly into their lives. That Spirit teaches them to turn from their darkest impulses so they might learn to live gently with a reverence for life and a desire for justice that enables true peace.
To paraphrase something Sr Elizabeth CMA wrote recently: With his very being, Jesus Christ invites us to live a truly powerful life marked by a vulnerable, self-offering love, stronger than anything that the darkness of this world can understand or overcome. Where powers of domination see weakness, the life of Jesus radiates possibility for a world filled with the joy of compassionate, creative lives and relationships among her people. Lives that radiate love, peace, joy and wonder call that out in others. It is contagious.
May we carry such infection with us into the coming year.