While today is actually the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the boy babies slaughtered by King Herod in his attempt to kill the Christ child, I would ask you to consider the sermon I preached yesterday at Mass for St. John Evangelist.
Feast of St. John Evangelist
27 December, 2013
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Merry Christmass!! Today the great feast of Christmass continues for Christians, although, for the secular world, Boxing Day (the Feast of St. Stephen) has come and gone, and, in the common parlance, “the world is moving on.” The post-Christmass sales are in full swing, and folks are looking forward to the next secular holiday, New Years Day (the Feast of the Circumcision), with no idea or thought at all that Christmasstide continues.
It is particularly appropriate today that we ask the question, “What is Christmass about, really?” Ask 10 people this question, and you will probably get 15 different answers. The truth is, however, that Christmass is about one, and only one, supremely important idea, The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, true Son of the Father, taking human flesh and coming into the world. Everything else is either secondary or superfluous. But of the 15 answers you get, the Incarnation may, or may not, be mentioned.
Since the earliest days of the Christian Church, the Incarnation has presented a problem for the Church and for people at large. It requires us to address the question, “Who/What is Jesus Christ?” This is not an easy question for many people, for various reasons that we consider here.
Particularly for modern man, steeped in rationalism, the Incarnation is a logical paradox. If he is inclined to believe, he may say, (1) it is agreed that man is not God; (2) it is agreed that God made man; (3) God was not made, and we have no idea of the origin of God; (4) so how is it possible that God could become man? If the reasoner is not inclined to believe, he may say, (1) there is no God, (2) since there is no God, how could this nonexistent entity become human? Both of them are likely to conclude that the Incarnation is simply nonsense.
For others, the idea of the Incarnation is an offense. They may be rationalist intellectuals for whom no God exists. For them, the Incarnation is offensive because it is simply nonsense. For others, if they accept the existence of God, the idea of the Incarnation, God coming to earth in human form, is an offense because it is seen as God intruding into their lives, making demands upon them, and meddling in their affairs. This is unwelcome, particularly if they see themselves as able to do for themselves. At the very best, this becomes God challenging their self-sufficiency.
But as Christians, we know that the Incarnation is real. This means that we have no out; we must confront the question, “Who/What is Jesus Christ?” I would suggest that there are two sources we ought to consider in this regard today (there are actually many more, but we will consider only two today). It is particularly appropriate that today, on the Feast of St. John Evangelist, that we consider the words of the Evangelist in the opening words of his Gospel, the passage that we hear at the end of every Mass as the Last Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, . . . ” You and I have heard these words countless times; we can probably recite them by heart. But we need think seriously about they say in regard to the Incarnation.
First, we need to recall that these words are about the Logos, the Word of God, the true Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord. John begins by establishing that the Word is true God, John 1:1b . . . and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. St. John continues, John 1:2-5 (KEV) 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There are many would say in their modern arrogance, “That is all well and good, but don’t let Him get in my way. He may have made the world, but it is mine today and I’m going to do what I want to do with it.” But that is exactly what happened in St. John’s time as well; note that he said, And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There were people then, just as there are today, who simply refuse to see the light, and they do not understand it.
The prologue closes with these words: John 1:14 (KJV) 14 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. Here, St. John is boldly declaring to us and to all people that, in the Incarnation, the Word has taken flesh, He has come to live among us, and that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man, like us in every respect – He ate, drank, got tired and slept, laughed, cried, felt pain and pleasure, – but remained without sin. John proclaims that the Incarnation is real. Indeed, the whole Gospel of John is about the Incarnation, and as he says, near the end, John 20:31 (KJV) 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
The second source that we ought to consider is the Nicene Creed. Recall that there are three great ecumenical creeds: he Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. All three are attempts to set forth the faith of the Church, which revolves largely about what we say about Jesus Christ, who/what He is, but it is generally agreed that the Nicene Creed is the most precise, clear description of the Christ. The Nicene Creed consists of three paragraphs, the first dealing with God the Father, the last dealing with God the Holy Ghost, but the second and by far the longest paragraph deals with Jesus Christ.
In that second paragraph, in attempting to describe what/who Jesus Christ is, we find strange phrases such as “… God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; begotten, not made …” Now, admittedly, these are not the ordinary sort of words that you might hear on the street, at the grocery store, or at work. But they are attempting to perform a unique service for us, to describe the divinity of Jesus Christ. Words are not completely adequate for such a task, but that is what they attempt anyway. Reading on a little way, we read, “… And was Incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man.” There it is again, that incredible, offensive, illogical idea, the Incarnation. The Church believes, and has believed from the earliest days, that Jesus Christ is both divine and human; He is God in the flesh, God incarnate.
What do we believe? Are we truly of the Church, standing with her, or are we modern humanistic rationalists who simply cannot believe? Be assured that without the divinity of Christ, He becomes nothing more than a great teacher, a healer, and a prophet, but still just a man. This is a popular view among many today. Further, without the humanity of Christ, He is not able to truly take our sins upon Himself, to stand for us in our place before the Judgement of God. Without humanity, He would be only a god, unable to truly represent us because He would not be one of us. But Jesus Christ is truly both God and man. Thus the Creed says, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” That is why He came down, that is why He took on human flesh and became a man, all the while remaining true God from all eternity. This is the answer to who/what Jesus Christ is.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.