December 24, 2015
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory,
the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
(St. John i. 14)
This evening you and I bring our Advent journey to a close. In Advent we labored to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life. (Advent Collect) In Advent season we struggled to die to ourselves that the Word that was made flesh long ago might be made flesh in us tonight. God the Father’s Word is His only and everlastingly begotten Son. This Word is the Father’s spoken Wisdom and Desire for every created thing in general and for man in particular. For just as we know other men by their words, so we know God only by His Word. Christians believe that God’s Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ in order that the Father’s Wisdom and Desire might not only define the life of the historical Jesus, but through His birth, life, death, and resurrection might also enable us to be so born again that we might be saved. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 22) God’s Word was made flesh and [dwells] among us that we who come from God, are made by God, are conserved by God, may in the end return to God.
But before we get to God’s Word made flesh and learn how Christ’s birth is meant to become our own, we might want to follow both the author of tonight’s Gospel, St. John, in order to form a clearer picture of this God who comes to save us in His Son. St. John, according to Holy Tradition, lived a very long life. He was probably the youngest of the Apostles, in his own Gospel described uniquely as the disciple whom Jesus loved… who also leaned on His breast at the [last] supper. (St. John xxi. 20) He alone amongst the Apostles stood at the foot of the Cross, and into his care Jesus entrusted His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Later he evangelized in Asia Minor and was thought to have outlived all of his brother Apostles, who died as Martyrs. The 2nd century spiritual son of the Apostles, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, tells us that after Saints Peter and Paul were martyred, and Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke had compiled their Gospels, St. John wrote his while living in Ephesus. (Ad.Haer. iii. 1.1) So St. John was quite old when, in the midst of Pentecostal fire, moving back from Christ’s Ascension, Resurrection, Crucifixion, and holy life, he wrote his Gospel. He knows the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke but is called to dig beneath human history deep into the flesh of the human Jesus to find the Divine nature and essence that defined His earthly manifestation. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (St. John i. 14) Through the life, light, and love of the historical Jesus, St. John perceives and embraces a glory that could be begotten only by God. In Jesus’ flesh John discovers the Word which was so gloriously full of God’s life, light, and love of God that it has been born again in his own heart.
And yet John shares the truth that this Word has been born again in his own life because he knows that the same Word longs to be born again in the hearts of all others who believe on His name: which [will be] born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (Ibid, 12, 13) This same Word [that] is made flesh in his life always desires to be made flesh in those who hear and receive Him in their hearts, who believe on His name, and who are thus given the power to become the sons of God. (Ibid, 13) He [had come] unto His own people, Jews living at the time of His Incarnation, but His own received Him not, (Ibid, 11) because they arrogantly and mistakenly thought that their relation to God as His sons and daughters was based on blood, the will of the flesh, and the will of man. (Idem) They thought that they were chosen and destined for salvation because of their human birth from Jewish mothers, their circumcision, and their obedience to the external and visible Law. John says that man relates to God and salvation only when the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is made flesh in the human heart through faith. John says elsewhere that God is love, and he that abideth in love, abideth in God and God in him. (1 St. John iv. 16) John remembers that, God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. (Ibid, 9)
And yet John knows that this Word, this Son of God, God’s love, has been coming into the world long before He joined Himself to human nature in the womb of the Virgin. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (Ibid, 10) John the Baptist had tried to alert the world to His coming. [John Baptist] came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (Ibid, 7-9) The Word made flesh, the coming Son of God, is the Light or Wisdom of God that illuminates, enlightens, informs, defines, and makes sense of the creation’s existence and condition. But though this light is come into the world…men [love] darkness rather than light, because their deeds [are] evil. (St. John iii. 19) Furthermore, He says that all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. (Ibid, 3) Through His Word of His Wisdom and Love, God chooses freely, without compulsion or need and out of sheer joy and ecstasy, to make and to create, to preserve and sustain all things. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. Through his loving Word, God gives life to all things. But in addition He gives meaning, definition, truth, intention, and purpose through the life that is the light of all men’s potential consciousness. The living and loving light offers itself always to the minds and hearts of men, who with the angels are called to see and understand, to cherish and treasure the knowledge and love of God’s plan and purpose for the whole creation.
But the living and loving light, then as now, encounters resistance, obduracy, and hardness of heart from the souls of sinful men and fallen angels. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (Ibid, 4,5) There is darkness in men and angels which has rejected the living and loving light of God’s Word. But in the presence of God the darkness has no power, and the best that it can do is to resist, reject, and renounce God’s Word. So John sees that foolish sinful angels fall to the earth and do all that they can to carry men with them into eternal, infernal isolation from God’s living and loving light and Word.
But St. John is interested in carrying us back to before all beginnings in order to show us that, in the end, nothing can oppose or overcome God’s Word. In articulating the vision and voice of the eternally-begotten life, light, and love of the Father’s Word, St. John reveals to us the Second Person of the Trinity, who can and will save us if we surrender to His birth. What is born of the Blessed Virgin Mary is God’s own eternally-begotten Word made flesh. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him and without Him was nothing made that was made. (Ibid, 1-3) From Heaven’s side, the Word is the eternally-expressed articulation of the Father’s desire and intention. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (Ibid, 14) From earth’s side, the Word joins itself to human nature, enlarges and deepens its unity with creation by being born as a man, that being so extraordinarily in possession of the Divine life, light, and love… God Himself would speak in and through Him… so that He would say ‘he who has seen me, has seen the Father.’(Guardini, The Lord, p. 14)
So, St. John’s Prologue is not merely the theological articulation of a return to all beginnings. John moves back to before all beginnings in order that we might find the eternal origin that lovingly longs to join itself to human life in order to save us. We can return to God only when His eternally-generated Son, His everlastingly-begotten Word is made flesh. Jesus said, I am come that [you] might have life, and that [you] might have it more abundantly. (St. John x. 10) And in another place: Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. (St. John iii. 3, 5-7)
St. Augustine, reflecting on St. John’s vision of old, tells us that: He who is the Son of God, for us has become the Son of man, so that we who were the children of men, might become the children of God. Wondrous Exchange! He is made flesh; we become Spirit. The ever living Son of God is born to lovingly die, that we mortal sons of death might be born again, and all be made alive. (Aug: Serm. 121)
Tonight Christ desires be born again in you and me! God’s life, light, and love are found in the eternally-begotten desire of God’s Word to be made flesh in us. And so on this Christmas night, God’s Word addresses our flesh. Will we welcome the Heavenly birth of God’s own Word in the flesh of our sinful souls? In us will Heaven touch earth? Through us will Earth reach Heaven? As we look into this mystical moment, let us lovingly long for His birth in our hearts and delight to sing:
Welcome all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span!
Summer in winter ! day in night !
Heaven in earth ! and God in man !
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to earth !
(R. Crashaw: Nativity…)