Homily for December 31st, 2016: John 1:1-18.
If you came to Mass on Christmas morning, you probably heard this gospel. You may have thought it strange. Where are the shepherds, the manger, Mary and Joseph? Where is their child? Instead of these familiar Christmas figures we have heard about abstractions: light and darkness, the Word becoming flesh.
Let=s start with another word: Aincarnation.@ It means Ataking on flesh, embodiment.@ This building is the incarnation of an idea in the mind of the architect who designed it, and of the sacrifices that made its construction possible. Children are the incarnation of their parents= love. And Jesus is the incarnation of God.
We cannot see God. Jesus shows us what God is like. That is why this Christmas gospel calls Jesus God=s Word. A word is used to communicate. Jesus is God=s word because he is God=s communication to us: not a lifeless, abstract statement, but God=s living and breathing utterance and self-disclosure.
When we listen to Jesus, we hear God speaking to us. When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like. What do we see when we look at Jesus? We see that he preferred simple, ordinary people. He came to the world in a provincial village where nothing interesting or important ever happened. Jesus moved not among wealthy or sophisticated people, or among scholars and intellectuals, but among ordinary people. They were the ones who welcomed him most warmly. The rich and powerful and learned had difficulties with Jesus. Many were hostile to him – then, and still today.
In his youth Jesus worked with his hands in the carpenter=s shop. His teaching was full of references to simple things: the birds of the air, the wind and the waves, the lilies of the field, the vine, the lost sheep, the woman searching for her one lost coin, leavening dough with yeast, the thief breaking in at night. Those were images that everyone could understand. Jesus also told stories: so simple that they capture the interest of children; yet so profound that learned scholars are still studying them today.
In preferring simple people and simple things, Jesus was showing us what God is like. He who is God=s utterance and word, God=s personal communication to us, is saying through all the circumstances of his life that God loves humble people. God is especially close to those who feel that they are not in control of their lives; that they are the victims of circumstances; that their lives are a tangle of loose ends and broken resolutions.
It is because God gave us his Son at Christmas that we give gifts to one another. The greatest gift we can give cannot be bought in any store. It is the gift God gave us at Christmas: the gift of himself. Look at Mary=s child: helpless, vulnerable, and weak, as all babies are. He is God=s way of saying: >This is how much the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, loves you; enough to be become tiny, insignificant, vulnerable.= Jesus, the personal utterance and word of God, is God=s gift to you. He wants you to share this gift with others.