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 toiled and 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 Christ might be born again in us on this Christmas night. Christmas is really all about Christ’s birth in us. And this is why our English Reformers opted to preserve the Gospel reading from St. John that was first used in the ancient Latin Western Church. They did this because they knew that Christmas was about much more than past history. Christmas is about conversion, being born from above, or being born again as Christ, who is Emmanuel – Christ with us and for us, is born in our hearts and souls, yes even on this Christmas night.
Now, to be sure, being born again is no easy business. It doesn’t just happen. Instantaneous conversion is a hard thing to come by easily. Actually it is something that God alone can bring about. And for the ancient Latin Fathers the most articulate expression of God’s conversion of the world and the men who inhabit it is found in the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel. For there, after a mystical vision, St John learns and teaches that all created life finds its beginning, middle, and end with the eternally-begotten Word of God’s love. St. John, according to Holy Tradition, lived a very long life. He was probably the youngest of the Apostles and is referred to in his own Gospel 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 to him was entrusted the care and service of the Blessed Mother. Later he evangelized in Asia Minor and was thought to have outlived all of his Apostolic brothers who died as Martyrs. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a 2nd century Church Father, tells us that after Saints Peter and Paul were martyred, and after Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke had compiled their Gospels, St. John wrote his while living in Ephesus. (Ad.Haer. iii. 1.1) He was an old man when he wrote his Gospel and Epistles, and so looks back not only over the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension of Jesus Christ, and Pentecost, but also upon the life and witness of his friends in whom Christ was born again and reconciling the world to himself.
St. John knows that Christ has ascended to the right hand of the Father, and since that time has been reconciling the world to himself in the hearts and minds of Christians everywhere. But how should he begin? He knows of Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ birth. That terrain has been covered, he thinks, so what more can be said? And then he realizes what he must do. Matthew and Luke have told of Christ’s earthly birth. But Jesus Christ’s birth was no mere mortal entry into the external and visible world of time and space. St. Luke had recounted Mary’s conversation with the Angel who said to her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.(St. Luke i. 35) St. John must speak not only of the Son of Man, but of the Son of God. His beginning must move beyond time and space, and find its root in the heart of God.
For, it is the heart of God’s love that has left its deepest impress upon the life of John. John was called the disciple whom the Lord loved. (St. John xxi. 20) And the love which Jesus shares with him is indicative of an intimacy and closeness in friendship that the other disciples seemed to miss. But John perceives Jesus’ love always, and in that lasting impression he finds the love of God at work in the life of his Lord long before he understood the meaning of his life. By the time John writes his Gospel he has been progressively altered and redefined by the love of Jesus that has never ceased to come to him through the Holy Spirit. And so, St. John is intent upon articulating just how God’s own Son was the product of the Father’s eternal Love. 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) John who has been living in and through the Son realizes that the Son is the expression, utterance, voice, or the Word of the Father’s Love. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Ibid, 1) What St. John says is that before all beginnings God and His Word of Love existed. (The Mystery of Eternity, Mouroux, p.34) 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 Love, God chose freely, without compulsion or need, out of sheer joy and ecstasy, to make and to create all things. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (Ibid, 4,5) Through his loving Word, God gave life to all things. But he gave also meaning, definition, truth, intention, and purpose through the life that was the light of all men’s potential consciousness. The living and loving light offered itself always to the minds and hearts of men, who alone were called to see and understand, to cherish and treasure the knowledge and love of God. But the living and loving light encountered resistance, obduracy, and hardness of heart from the souls of sinful men. There was a darkness in man that could neither comprehend nor overcome the living and loving light. But that was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (Ibid, 9) This living and loving light informs and defines all human life. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. (Ibid, 10, 11) The same loving light never ceases to shine forth into the creation, making and creating, conserving and preserving, defining and informing, and calling and summoning His own – all men - though thought of him never so much as crosses most of their minds. But to those few whose eyes are opened, ears unstopped, hearts softened, and minds opened to his coming, something radically new begins to transpire. But [to]as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (Ibid, 12, 13) The same living and loving light, God’s eternal Word of Love, desires to come to those who freely and willingly, and inwardly and spiritually receive Him that they might be born again, born from above, born of the Spirit as they become his own. And the Word [of God’s eternal Love] was made flesh and dwelt among us. (Ibid, 14) John sees and knows, receives and embraces, cherishes and treasures that Word of God’s Love that was made flesh and dwelt among us in the life of Jesus Christ, and he continues, we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father full of Grace and truth. (Ibid, 14)
So John has articulated his vision of the eternally-begotten life, light, and love of the Father’s Word or Son. What he sees is that the Son is the mirror Image of the Father’s Love, passion, and desire. He sees that this Love is not only what creates and makes, conserves and preserves, beautifies and adorns, but what also finds and rescues, saves and delivers, protects and defends, redeems and sanctifies. The evil that opposes the Word of God’s Love is never an obstacle to God’s determination to save and deliver the people whom He forever longs to reconcile with Himself. You see, John’s Prologue is not merely the theological articulation of a beginning that had no end. This Word made flesh is life, light, and love, and John remembers Jesus’ words: I am come that [you] might have life, and that [you] might have it more abundantly. (St. John x. 10) And in another place: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, 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) And, again, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (St. John xiv. 23) Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten Word of God’s [Love is] made flesh so that the beginning which He shares with the Father might become the source and origin of our new spiritual birth that issues forth into a life that ends with God in Heaven. This is the eternal Love that moves St. John to write to us on this Christmas night. This is the eternal Love which can move from his heart to ours.
Christmas must be all about the Word of God’s Love made flesh in us. At Christmas time Christ desires be born again in you and me! True life, light, and love are found in the eternally-begotten desire of God’s Word for us. On this Christmas night, God’s Word made flesh speaks to us and awaits our response. Will we be born again? Let us close with the words of Arthur Edward Waite.
WITH a measure of light and a measure of shade,
The world of old by the Word was made;
By the shade and light was the Word conceal’d,
And the Word in flesh to the world reveal’d
Is by outward sense and its forms obscured;
The spirit within is the long lost Word,
Besought by the world of the soul in pain
Through a world of words which are void and vain.
O never while shadow and light are blended
Shall the world’s Word-Quest or its woe be ended,
And never the world of its wounds made whole
Till the Word made flesh be the Word made soul!
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons