Christmas 2005: Do we discern
Christ's light in our world or not?
Our modern society continues to be ambiguous about Jesus Christ.
On the one hand, his teaching and wisdom that emerge in the gospels and the letters of St. Paul continue to edify and move the minds and hearts of many people in our world.
On the other hand, certain novelists and cinematographers attempt to portray Jesus very much as a human being caught up in the dynamics of his culture and the political and social currents of his day. They do not understand how Jesus can transcend the limitations imposed on him by his human condition. They do not believe the words of St. John in the gospel reading for Christmas (John 1:1-15) that Jesus is the Word of God become flesh and has made his dwelling among us.
All of us, eventually, have to make a decision about what we believe regarding Christmas and what we believe regarding Jesus Christ.
IS JESUS THE SON OF GOD OF NOT?
If Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father made flesh, then his coming among us has to have ultimate significance in our lives. If we accept this revelation from God, it means that we have had some personal experience of his presence in our world, and we have recognized that his light has lit up the darkness of our lives. This means that we have had some personal experience of the power of his love, and our hearts and spirits have been touched by his healing power.
If Jesus is not the eternal Son of the Father, then who is he? It is obvious that his first disciples were deeply moved by him, and his impact on people who came to know him has continued through the centuries. He claimed that he came from the Father, and that faith in him depended on his relationship with the Father. He certainly did not choose to be a great religious leader like Moses "“ in fact he said that one greater than Moses was in their midst. He continually emphasized the special relationship he had with God, that he and the Father were one. Either he was a charlatan and liar, or he was telling the truth.
If Jesus is a liar, then it does not make sense for people to follow him and his teaching, and certainly not to sacrifice themselves for his cause.
If Jesus is telling the truth about himself and his unique relationship with his Father, then he is, as he said, the way to the Father for us, and the truth, and the life that God wants to share with us. It would then be illogical for us to ignore him, and to refuse to follow him despite the fact that we recognized the truthfulness of his claims.
CHRISTMAS IS A DILEMMA FOR SOME PEOPLE
Christmas presents a dilemma for certain people in our society today. If the incarnation of the Son of God is true and is in fact God's plan for our redemption, then our minds and hearts should be moved as we recall his birth among us. Christmas, then, should be, first of all, a religious celebration for us, recalling the amazing reality that God loves us so much that He is willing to share His Son with us as a human being like us.
But if people are not sure about Jesus "“ if he seems to be more a great philosopher or moralist; if he seems to be another great religious leader who had some good things to say to people; if they suspect that he was divinized by his early followers and was, in fact, only a great teacher "“ then Christmas creates some uneasiness for them. They prefer a more secular holiday with a few religious trappings, but not the commemoration of the human birth of the Son of God.
PROBLEMS FOR NON-BELIEVERS
It is no wonder that many secularists, humanists and nominal Christians tend to be a bit defensive at Christmastime. The prologue of John's gospel is disconcerting to them because of its direct and clear declaration about this Jesus who was born in Bethlehem:
'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Word came to being through him, through his creative power as God. And he was born in the world but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God.
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us "“ and we see his glory, the glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth."
THE CONSEQUENCES OF CHRISTMAS
For those of us who know who Jesus is, our hearts are filled with gratitude as we contemplate his coming among us as one like us. We know that he is the eternal Son of the Father. Consequently, we know that we must live as his disciples in fact and not only in name. We rejoice in the life he shares with us.
For those who do not know who Jesus is, whether their ignorance is deliberate or not, they prefer a Christmas that is less religious and more secular. They do not like to be reminded of the faith claims of believing Christians. They prefer that there be fewer symbols of Christmas on display rather than more. The problem for secularists is that there are too many people in this country who believe the words in St. John's gospel "“ that the Word of God was made flesh and dwells among us.
For those of us who do believe in the incarnation, Christmas is a time of prayer and expectation in our homes and parishes. We recognize that the Son of God has come among us as man. It is a time for remembering and rejoicing, even if the rest of the year has not gone so well for us. The presence and love of Jesus for us helps us cope with life's difficulties. He gives purpose and meaning to our lives and makes everything else that happens to us ultimately worthwhile.
A BLESSED CHRISTMAS TO ALL
To all the people of faith in northeastern Nebraska, I wish you a blessed, holy Christmas. You have seen his light and have been warmed by his love. You know from experience that the Son of God has become incarnate in our midst. This is the reason you can celebrate Christmas with hope and joy despite all the darkness that covers our earth. Jesus is the light of the world!