Written on Monday, December 18th, 2017
Merry Christmas! I know it is hard to believe, but Christmas is finally here. At Christmas, we celebrate the “Word made Flesh.” We need time to both ponder and celebrate just how remarkable the Incarnation truly is for all humanity. We need more than Christmas Eve and Day to celebrate this reality.
The prologue to the Gospel of St. John begins this way: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us.” In an article titled “Why It Matters Who Jesus Is” Bishop Robert Barron points out: “In the famous scene at Caesarea-Philippi (the place where Simon is renamed Peter), Jesus turns to his Apostles and asks, “Who do men say that I am?” He doesn’t ask what people are saying about his preaching or his miracle-working or his impact on the culture; he asks who they say he is.” The focus on being rather than on what Jesus was doing is a unique feature of Christianity. Bishop Barron puts it this way:
“Councils from Nicaea to Chalcedon formulated ever more precise articulations of the being, nature, and person of Jesus, and the most significant theologians of the early centuries…tirelessly speculated about these same matters. This preoccupation with the being of Jesus signals, by the way, a major point of demarcation between Christianity and the other great religions of the world. Buddhists are massively interested in the teaching of the Buddha, but they are more or less indifferent to the ontology of the Buddha; no self-respecting Muslim worries about the existential make-up of Muhammad; and no Jew is preoccupied with the “being” of Moses or Abraham.”
Who is this Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas? He is the Word made Flesh. In an article titled “St. John’s Christmas Sermon” Bishop Barron helps us understand better the term Logos, which we translate as “The Word.”
“But God, the sheer act of being itself, the perfect Creator of the universe, is able utterly to speak himself in one great Word, a Word that does not simply contain an aspect of his being but rather the whole of his being. This is why we say that the Word is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God;” and this is why St. John says that the Word was God…. The Logos of God would necessarily contain the fullness of rationality and order, for he is nothing other than the mind of God…. The Word is the prototype in which all forms of reasonable structure are implicitly present.”
The very mind of God becomes flesh in Jesus! The Word becoming flesh is so important for us as we read in the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.” Jn 1:12. The Word becoming flesh has ramifications for our being! Bishop Barron put it this way:
“It is a basic principle of nature that nothing at a lower level of being can rise to a higher level unless it is drawn upward. A chemical can become part of a more complex structure only if it is assimilated by a plant; a plant can become ingredient in a sentient nature only if it is devoured by an animal; an animal can participate in rationality only if it is taken in by a human being. By this same principle, a human being can become something higher, not through his own efforts, but only when a superior reality assimilates him. The Church fathers consistently taught that God became human so that humans might become God, which is to say, participants in the divine nature. In a word, we can become children of God precisely because God reached down to us and became a son of man.”
We might not always think about this aspect of the Christmas Mystery/Incarnation and its import. But without this focus on being/ontology Jesus would just be some sort of super saint not really different than other human figures that we may admire such as St. Francis, Mother Theresa and a whole host of other famous people through the centuries that we might admire. The focus on the being of the Word made Flesh is the reason why evangelizing is so important, so that others too might be given “power to become children of God.” This power comes through Jesus, the Word made flesh, the unique savior of all mankind whose birth we commemorate every year at Christmas.