Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
Although Midnight Mass can pose problems for parents with young children, as sleep patterns are disturbed by staying up late, or waking up in the middle of the night, from a liturgical point of view it might be worth the effort–at least as far as the scripture readings are concerned. For at the Midnight Mass even young children can easily be caught up in the enchanting Christmas story that Saint Luke relates, replete with overcrowded inns, rustic stables, and a newborn infant wrapped in swaddling bands. But what is a small child to make of this morning’s gospel with its heavily theological language: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and so on? One presumes that the Church in her wisdom has sound reasons for assigning this theologically dense excerpt from Saint John’s Gospel for Christmas morning. And so we might explore why its inclusion is important and perhaps even indispensable to understanding the whole mystery of the God’s becoming man in Jesus Christ.
As we know the eternal Word as the one humbling himself and becoming like us in all things but sin is the central theme of the Christmas celebration. This divine and beneficent condescension was however a means to our salvation and ultimate divinization and not simply an attempt to draw closer to us through the act of physically living among us. Accordingly, he assumed our humanity that he might first redeem and restore it, and then take it up into his own divinity. And so whereas Saint Luke and Saint Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus are crucial in establishing the reality of the incarnation and the full humanity of Christ, their accounts need to be balanced by Saint John’s very different perspective on the same reality and event.
This is essential because an all too human preoccupation with Jesus born in a stable and lying in a manger can mask our not always conscious attempts to resist divinization by trying to draw God down to our level rather than allow ourselves to be taken up into his glory and divinity. For as much as we might be enticed by the mysterious prospect of being divinized, the personally costly process involved seems all too intimidating since, in the words of John Dalrymple it costs no less than everything. And so like Saint Peter on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration we wish to set up tents and remain here with Jesus in this earthly existence. Like Mary Magdalene after the resurrection we cling to Jesus in our efforts to prevent his ascension to the heights of divine and eternal life because we are still afraid of letting go of the hosts of earthly and all too human attachments wherein we fruitlessly struggle to find inner peace, happiness and contentment.
And so it is that John’s unique account of the birth of the Savior can serve as a summons to lift our gaze from the confining and limiting horizons of this world and rest our weary eyes on those eternal vistas of our heavenly homeland into which Christ will lead us if we but trust him and, abandoning all things, follow him to glory. And when we feel ourselves anxious and fearful about what this following him to glory might cost us, let us recall those powerful words of Saint Paul who, by the witness of his life and glorious martyrdom assures us that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For he tells the Corinthians, eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, nor has it entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him. And so it is that Christianity and this Christian celebration is, in the words of Alice McDermott, an act of rebellion. A mad, stubborn, outrageous, nonsensical refusal to be comforted by anything less than the glorious impossibility of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.