Christmas Day Mass: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
The Russian author, Paul Evdokimov, wrote that the life of Christ begins, heightened by wonders: his conception announced by an angel, conceived of the Virgin, lauded by a choir of angels, marked in the heavens by a star, worshipped by Magi from the East…But then Christ sinks into hidden years, re-emerging as a homeless preacher, confronted by mixed reactions; finally, betrayed and abandoned by the men he called, he is executed as a criminal. What a descent!
The Gospel we celebrate every Christmas Day opens an enlightening perspective on the Lord’s descent into our flesh. From eternity, he is the light shining in the darkness, just as his birth shines from the shadowy cave in Bethlehem.
Justin Martyr, writing in the Second Century, tells us that this cave, used as a stable, had once been dedicated to Canaanite god Tammuz, a god of vegetation who annually died and returned to life with the crops. The infant Christ, son of God and son of Mary, illumines the murky mysteries of nature religion, with the light of resurrection.
That same light shines out of the cave where Christ is buried in the shadow of Golgotha. Christ’s descent into ignominy is not—is never—the whole story, because it is God, through him, who interrupts that story to meet us where we are. And where we are is that network of primal myth and philosophies seeking understanding in the realm of shepherds and flocks, of questing Magi and cruel tyrants, the promise of a newborn, the betrayal of followers, the simple joys of friendship, the delicately balanced benefits and burdens of family, a network bordered by mortality and self-transcendence.
The birth we celebrate today illumines all of that. This birth, this incarnation of the Divine, is the gift that exploits that self-transcendence, that openness to Otherness, like a vein of gold running through common rock. Death, so illumined, is no longer a blind force but the passage to a life we can only intuit here and now: and this life was the light of the human race, the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.