By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory of an only begotten Son coming from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1,14)
The Prologue of John’s Gospel soars like an eagle, the symbol for the Gospel of the beloved disciple, and is a seamless fulfillment of the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. All three Gospels have profound messages of joy and hope for the believer, for the Church, and for the world, all gift wrapped in the mystery of the Incarnation.
They are remarkably different with each revealing a nuanced theology of this unfathomable mystery of God becoming one like us, but together they open us up to the world of wonder and wisdom, of hope and salvation, to Emmanuel, God with us.
The feast of Christmas beckons us to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, but never detached from his life, death, and resurrection, and his ultimate transformation into his glorified body. At Christmas our saving God cloaks us in the mystery of the Incarnation, cradle and Cross; Emmanuel does not gift wrap us in the fantasy of swaddling clothes.
Many cry out for hope and salvation in our world, and our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to respond in ways that go beyond what is humanly possible because we are graced in God’s love. Consider the Lord’s birth in the stable, announced by the Host of angels, and surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the animals, the shepherds, and eventually the Magi, and God only knows how many townspeople who stopped by out of curiosity.
What a gathering of unlikely guests. It surpasses by far whatever galactic bar scene that Star Wars: the Force Awakens can produce. It is a scene of beauty and truth, but in an instant it is shattered by the murderous rage of Herod who cannot live with any threat to his power, perceived or real. Life’s vulnerability takes center stage, and is never absent from the Lord’s earthly life, embodied fully in his Cross.
I happened to come across a poignant cartoon that portrays the Christmas story. In the first frame there is a knock at the Church doors. In the second frame as the person goes to open the doors another tries to stop him shouting that it might be terrorist from the Middle East. In the third frame the doors open and Joseph, and Mary with the child Jesus upon the donkey enter seeking rest along their flight into Egypt. They were refugees fleeing violence in their homeland. Does this sound familiar?
To be inspired by the Christmas story also involves the call and the challenge to be transformed by the power of the Gospel message. The Word became flesh, full of grace and truth, and was robed in the vulnerability of life that is around every turn. God loved Joseph and Mary beyond imagining but in their response to his invitation to welcome the Savior their lives were immediately at risk. Jesus loved his apostles and died for them, and in turn they became martyrs out of love for Him. They were vulnerable and they knew it intensely after the crucifixion, but the risen Lord transformed them into Pentecost.
If we respond to our steady state of vulnerability in life with fear in a knee jerk manner, then we wall ourselves in, brick by brick. Caution and common sense of course are always required to safeguard our lives and the lives of our families, but the demand of Christmas will not let us off the hook too easily. The Holy Family is incarnated in the countless families who are part of the refugee crisis that is enveloping the Western world at this time. As Pope Francis reminded the nation in his address to Congress with respect to refugees, we are experiencing the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Of course, our elected leaders are compelled to monitor our national security when threatened by other nations or individuals, physically or through cyber space, but where in all of this is the Lord’s call to accept a level of vulnerability in our lives for the sake of compassion, justice and peace?
What are some of the blessings of Christmas?
We joyfully and rightly celebrate the gift of salvation with hymns and worship, with Christmas gatherings and gifts, in our own homes and with extended family and friends, with holiday parties in the workplace, and outdoor caroling. These are great blessings.
We also see the blessings of the many who reach out to the poor so that the Good News can not only be preached to them, but made real in their lives through loving generosity. We respond to their vulnerability while never forgetting our own.
We also give thanks to those who serve the vulnerable populations in our society throughout the year, in season and out of season, through so many non profit, government, and Church sponsored agencies, especially our own Catholic Charities.
In his address to Congress Pope Francis shared that being a bridge-builder is what being the Pope is all about, to heaven and across the earth. This is Christmas. May the Word of God who became flesh, full of grace and truth, and remains flesh in this world through His Church, inspire us to apply his wisdom, light and truth to every corner of our lives, in order that we may continue to build our lives in a way that gives glory to God, and greater dignity to every living person, especially the vulnerable in our midst, the Lord himself.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz