Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Word Became Flesh, And Made His Dwelling Among Us. And We Have Seen His Glory!

Reading 1              1 John 2:18-21
Children, it is the last hour;
and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming,
so now many antichrists have appeared.
Thus we know this is the last hour.
They went out from us, but they were not really of our number;
if they had been, they would have remained with us.
Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.
But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.
I write to you not because you do not know the truth
but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth.
Today we look at the Fourth Condition for "walking in the light", which calls for us to be on guard against "Antichrists."

"This is the last hour", the writer tells his readers.  It is the final hour in the sense of that period between the death and resurrection of Jesus and his Second Coming in glory and judgment.  The early Christians believed that the Second Coming would happen even in their lifetime.  They believed that they were living in the "final hour", and one of the sings would be the appearance of anti-Christs and false teachers.  However, by the time this letter was written, toward the end of the 1st century AD, that expectation was being modified.

Nevertheless, it is a warning that we need to take seriously.  Our planet as we know it may continue for thousands of years (although we are doing our best to prevent that from happening!) but what is much more relevant is that the "final hour" of each one of us is not far away.  Some of us will go on to a ripe old age, and slip away when we have reached the fullness of time; but many others, perhaps the majority, will be cut short by sickness, disease, or some other unforeseen happening.  The warning today is timely.

Before that final day, the letter warns that the "Antichrist" is coming.  This is a term found only in the First and Second Letters of John.  However, both Matthew (24;24) and Mark (13:22) speak of "false Messiahs".  Mark quotes Jesus as saying, "Then, if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' or 'Look, there he is!' -- do not beleive him.  For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear" (Mark 13:21-22).  In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess 2:3) there is mention of the "Wicked One".  The gospels of Mark and Matthew and the Boof of Revelation speak of several persons, rather than just one.

1 John seems to make a distinction between an "anti-Christ" who comes from outside the community (personified in the Roman emeperors who persecuted the Church) and those false teachers who come from inside.  The Church has always been and always will be attacked from both without and within.

"Antichrists" in the plural are linked to all those who are spreading false teaching about Christ and the Gospel within the community.  And their presence is, says the letter, an indication that the "final hour" is already on the way.  However, many of these have since left the community, an indication that they never really belonged.  Those who have been truly anointed by the Spirit are those who stay.  "They have received knowledge".  In other words, they are genuinely in touch with Jesus and with God.  The "knowing" is based on personal experience, not simply on a set of ideas.

As Christians today, we are constantly bombarded from within and without by people who, wittingly or unwittingly, are trying to undermine the vison of the Kingdom which Jesus passed on to us.  We should not be surprised by this.  And we have to admit that some of the  accusations thrown against us are true.  Many, however, are trying to undermine our central mission.  What is important is how we respond.  The only way we can respond is through word and and action, and to always speak the truth in love.

+++    +++    +++    +++   

Responsorial          Psalm 96
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name;
announce his salvation, day after day.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the LORD.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
The LORD comes,
he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

+++    +++    +++    +++   

Gospel                 John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
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.

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
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,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.

There are three occasions when we read the Prologue of John’s gospel during the Christmas season. The first is at the Daytime Mass on Christmas Day, the second on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas and today, New Year’s Eve.

This magnificent passage provides a powerful opening to this gospel. It lays out the main themes of John’s gospel - Life, Light, Truth, the World, Testimony and the Pre-existence of Jesus Christ. He is the Incarnate Logos or Word, who reveals God the Father to us. It was originally probably an early Christian hymn and parallels closely two other great hymns quoted in the Pauline letters - one in the Letter to the Colossians and the other in the Letter to the Philippians. All speak of Jesus’ special relationship to God as his Father.

Its opening words are the same as the very first words in the Old Testament, “In the beginning…” But, whereas Genesis is really speaking of the beginning of our created universe, John goes back much further to the infinite beginnings of God himself. And in those beginnings we find the Word already existing. The Word was in a close relationship with God and the Word was of the very same nature as God.

The term ‘Word’ has a number of interrelated meanings. For us a word can indicate a person (man, woman…) or a thing (house, table…). But here Word indicates an active and creative word (somewhat akin to the power a great work of art can express). The Word as distinct from the Father is also seen as the instrument through which God creates (”All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be”). And Word also points to God as the ultimate source of all meaning and reality. Jesus then is the Word of God, God’s self-communication - through him the world came into being and through him we are led to God as the source of all meaning for our lives. That meaning is totally beyond the power of our human minds but Jesus opens the door a little for us to see more than we could manage on our own.

The two great gifts that come to us through the Word are Life and Light. Later Jesus will say, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” and “I AM the Bread of Life” and he will also say, “I AM the Light of the world.”
The Light that is Christ shines in the darkness of our world. It is a light that cannot be overcome because it represents the ultimate values of Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Justice and Love, Compassion and Fellowship, Freedom and Peace.

The coming of the Light was prepared for by John the Baptist. He had been sent by God, just as Jesus himself is sent by his Father. John himself was not the Light but gave witness to the Light. In addition to John, there are many testimonies to Jesus: the Samaritan woman, the Scriptures, Jesus’ works, the crowds, the Spirit and his own disciples. And, finally, we might add - each one of us.

Jesus was fully inserted in the world, the world which owes its very existence to him and yet it did not know him. ‘Know’ in the sense of not recognising him or acknowledging him to be what he really is. The Gospel also records, surely with sadness, that the Word came to “what was his own”, namely, Israel but his own people did not accept him. That, of course, is a generalised statement because there were many, including all the first followers of Jesus, who were Israelites. But the leadership by and large (again with exceptions like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea) did not accept him and even was instrumental in his death.

Those, however, who did accept the Word were given the power to become children of God. As such they are brothers and sisters of Jesus the Word. And this does not happen simply by natural birth or because they were born into a particular community but by the choice of God. A Jew was someone born of Jewish parents and circumcised and who chose to observe the Law.

Then comes the dramatic statement: “the Word became flesh”. The Word took on our human nature in all its fullness. He did not have, as some people believed, just the external appearance of a human but was through and through a man “like us in all things”. And he lived right among us. The Greek term literally means he “pitched his tent or tabernacle”. In the Old Testament God was believed to be present to his people in the Tent of Meeting. The Word in his humanity is the new presence of God among us. And we might add here that in our times the Christian community, as the Body of the Risen Christ, is now the tabernacle of Jesus’ presence in the world.

And then ” we saw his glory”, namely, the glory of God’s visible manifestation of his power, which formerly filled the tabernacle and the Temple, is now found in the Incarnate Word, Jesus, God’s only Son. It is a presence “full of grace and truth”. ‘Grace’ is the love of God as experienced in our lives and ‘Truth’ is that wholeness and integrity which reflects the deepest values we associate with God.

And now, “from his fullness we have all received”. That is the fullness of Grace and Truth, of which we are given a share, a share which we hope will grow with time. It is “grace in place of grace”. The grace of the Old Covenant is now replaced with the richer grace of the New. Or it is “grace upon grace” as the grace of the Old Covenant is enriched by the grace of the New.

Obviously, the text is very rich and dense and needs a lot of reflection, more than can be shared in a brief homily. And, as I have said, the same message is really given by Luke in his more down-to-earth story of the conception and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. In truth, the two passages complement and enrich each other.

No comments: