p. Luis CASASUS. President of the Idente Missionaries.
Rome, December 25th, 2022 | The Nativity of the Lord.
Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18.
Incarnation. By coming into the world, Christ did not become a sinner, but he wanted us to see how he experienced the same conditions, the weakness and the dangers of us sinners.
Although there is no more beautiful story than the one told today in the prologue of St. John’s Gospel, allow me to illustrate it with an anecdote.
A good and upright man had a problem with the mystery of Incarnation. He could not believe that God’s Son became one of us, and he was too honest to pretend. So, on Christmas Eve, when his wife and children went to church, he stayed at home.
Shortly after his family left the house, it began to snow and the wind started to blow. He went to the window to watch the snow fall and the wind. But a short while later he heard a sound, like the blow of something soft. Then it was quickly followed by another, then another. So he went to the front door to investigate. There he found a flock of birds miserably crowded together in the snow. They had been caught in the snowstorm and, in their desperate search for shelter, they had seen the light and flown into the window. “I cannot let these little creatures stay there in the cold and freeze to death, he thought, but how can I help them?” Then he remembered the barn. Yes, the barn would provide a nice and warm shelter for them. So he put on his coat and made his way through the snow to the barn. There he put on the light, but the birds did not come. Food will attract and guide them, he thought. So he scattered a trail of very small pieces of bread all the way into the barn, but the birds still did not come. Then he tried to shoo them into the barn by walking around them and waving his arms at them. But this time, the birds got afraid and scattered in all directions.
Then he said to himself: “It seems that the birds find me a strange and terrifying creature. If only there was some way, I could get them to trust me.” And just at that moment, the church bells began to ring. He stood silently as the bells rang out the glad tidings of Christmas: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Then the man sank to his knees in the snow, and said: “Lord, now I understand why you had to become one of us. As you did for us in becoming one of us, I would have been able to help these despairing birds if I had decided to become one of them.”
This is the mystery of Incarnation. In order to get closer to God, and also to our neighbor, we must necessarily empty ourselves of our way of thinking, speaking and acting. When the Prophet Isaiah transmits to us the voice of Yahweh: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord, he is not referring to an impossibility of communicating with Him, but to the need to do so as He wishes, with a continuous, permanent, dynamic abnegation, adapted to each moment.
This could be for us a practical lesson from the Incarnation of Christ. Not only does it represent an astonishing fact of unimaginable love, but it gives us a key to a key to imitate Him and reach the heart of every human being, as He Himself later expressed in many ways: washing the feet of the disciples, weeping with the sisters of Lazarus when he died, multiplying the loaves when the hunger of the multitude hurt him…
St. Paul summed it up in a way that was as powerful as it was moving: Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (Rm 12: 15). Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Cor 11: 29). All this God did first, coming among us as another man.
The Word became flesh. Why does Saint John use this expression “flesh”? Could he not have said, in a more elegant way, that the Word was made man? No, he uses the word flesh because it indicates our human condition in all its weakness, in all its frailty. He tells us that God became fragile so he could touch our fragility up close. Thus, from the moment the Lord became flesh, nothing about our life is extraneous to him. There is nothing that he scorns, we can share everything with him, everything.
Rejection. Even before coming into the world, Jesus experiences rejection. His parents are not admitted anywhere to help him come into the world. That is the announcement of what was to happen in his adult life.
What happens at the beginning of a story awakes an expectation. We keep the event in mind, because we want to see how it all plays out. As the story unfolds, we begin to understand the fuller meaning and power of the earlier event, realizing there was more here than we suspected.
That is why it is important to reflect on that initial rejection that Christ suffered, not only to better understand his life, but also to be alert and understand the power of jealousy and envy when we are rejected or persecuted in many ways, especially when the one who rejects us is convinced that he/she is faithful to God. But, especially, this suffering of the Holy Family should open our eyes, you and I, to a reality: it is easy for us to reject, with firm reasons, those whom God sees as innocent.
It is interesting that almost everyone (psychologists, religious, counselors, therapists…) when they talk about rejection, they refer to “how to overcome the rejection we suffer“. It is not surprising, because being rejected is one of the worst sufferings, next to that of separation from loved ones. However, we seldom deal with our own way of rejecting God. In reality, for those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus, the first thing to remember is that we reject God by rejecting others. Perhaps a quote from the Old Testament will suffice:
And the Lord said unto Samuel, hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them (1 Samuel 8:7). All this God did first, coming among us as another man.
In what ways do we reject Christ? Of course, we are not talking about persecuting Him, or speaking evil of Him. You and I surely reject Him with indifference or lack of appreciation. Our Founder calls this a lack of intellectual acceptance of the Gospel. That is where rejection begins.
The problem IS NOT that we do not believe in some things or words of Jesus’ life, but that, in many ways, we treat them as irrelevant. Lack of acceptance, or lack of appreciation. That is subtler and more dangerous than openly saying that we disagree with Him… because the latter would require tremendous intellectual and emotional effort and would probably lead to failure. It is a different, simpler and more trivial thing to say that we do not agree with the actions of some who call themselves Christians. But this, if we are not uncharitable, can even be constructive.
I reject the Gospel when, in the “ordinary” situations of my life, it does not occur to me that I need to know Christ’s opinion. For example, when I am comfortably surrounded by people who love me. I intellectually reject the Gospel when I do not stop to look at the life of Christ in a situation of conflict and rely rather on my experience, my opinions or my character. I reject the Gospel when I do not meditate carefully, preventively, projectively, on Jesus’ way of acting, in order to try to imitate him in similar circumstances.
But it was certainly Christ Himself who gave a complete explanation of how and why we reject the Word and the Word made flesh (Himself). In the Parable of the Sower, more than once, we see how all of us, we are in the second and third group of people who listen to Him without fruit for not preparing our ground.
Light. Today, in the sublime text of St. John, we realize that Jesus is light. It is not easy to find a more expressive metaphor than light to speak of God. But the evangelist is interested in emphasizing that this light is destined for us, not simply to be admired, but for us to make use of it.
The New Testament specifies in what way this occurs. Thus, St. John writes: And he who sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are faithful and true (Revelation 21:5).
Let us remember that our Founding Father has explained to us how this takes place in our spiritual life on a constant basis. God unites with us through Inspiration, which is a continuous state of union (if we allow it, in our freedom) in which the Holy Spirit molds us, shapes us, gives form to our existence (16 NOV 1974). He not only enlightens our mind and our will, but reveals to us His way of seeing the world, events and above all human beings. With the light of Inspiration, certainly all things become new, everything is meaningful, from everything we can obtain a fruit and everything can be transformed into an offering to God, even our sin, through repentance and conversion.
The light which Jesus brings is a revealing light. It is the condemnation of men that they loved the darkness rather than the light; and they did so because their deeds were evil; and they hated the light lest their deeds should be exposed (Jn. 3:19-20). And today, the same thing is still happening to us. The light which Jesus brings is something which shows things as they are. It strips away the disguises and the concealments; it shows them in their true character and their true values.
We, human beings are imbued with a fear of the dark, because darkness magnifies our basic fears. When we are within its grasp we often feel that it will never end. Thus it is when crisis casts its dark specter over our lives in the form of illness, accident, loneliness, or separation from people we love. What we find tough is not the darkness itself, but its seemingly endless duration. Darkness shrouds things in ambiguity. Darkness magnifies fear.
Secondly, darkness masks true dangers and makes them look harmless. The moment it grows dark; we no longer can easily estimate how dangerous things are. The path looks clear and safe, but that is because the darkness hides the curves and holes in the road. In the dark you look out on the wide open fields, but you do not see the barb-wire fences and ditches. If darkness magnifies fear in the first instance, then it makes true dangers appear harmless in the second.
For all these reasons, it is not surprising that the devil seeks to lock us in darkness. St. John is preparing us for a real fight, for a permanent dilemma.
Yes, the light that Christ brings is not a luxury, but something indispensable to have life, true life. To understand this well, let us conclude with the words we heard from John today:
All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.