Second Sunday after Christmas
This Sunday gives us the opportunity to deepen the mystery of the Child born in Bethlehem. “There is much to fathom in Christ, for he is like an abundant mine with many recesses of treasures, so that however deep individuals may go the may never reach the end or bottom, but rather in every recess find new veins with new riches everywhere”(St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle B, 37,4). For this reason, we pray today with the author of the letter to the Ephesians, that God “may give us a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed to bring us to a full knowledge” of his beloved Son (Ep. 1,17).
The Gospel text that is proposed to us today sings the mystery of the Word that is in the Father’s heart (Jn. 1,18), that was with him from all of eternity (Jn. 1,1). This Word, definitive revelation of the Father has placed his tent in our midst (Jn. 1,14), carries out to fullness that condescension of God that is already at work in the Old Testament in the interventions of God in favor of his people and in the gift of his Word (Sir. 24, 8.10-12).
Sir. 24, 1-4.8-12
The first reading is takes from the hymn of praise to Wisdom that is found in Sirach 24. In the same manner as Proverbs 8, Wisdom is personified in this text. The significance of this personification has been discussed much because Wisdom appears as a divine being or at least very close to God and it is like an appeal of God turned to men and women. It can very well be a literary personification to speak of biblical revelation, a first attempt at what we describe today as “biblical inspiration”. In our text, the author himself identifies Wisdom with the Torah (v. 23).
After a brief introduction (vv. 1-2) Wisdom itself sings its praises in a hymn of twenty-two verses – the number of letters found in the Hebrew alphabet – to indicate the completeness and perfection of its praise. Wisdom speaks of its divine origin and of its presence in the celestial time (vv. 3. 10). This accents its presence and activity in creation and in the history of the nations (vv. 5-6). In all the world and among the peoples it has searched in vain a dwelling place (v. 7), but finally its creator conceded to “pitch its tend” in Israel (vv. 8. 10-12). Wisdom describes its beauty with images and typical profumes of the land of Israel to make itself desired (vv. 13-17) and to be able to then give an insistent invitation to all those that wish to walk with her (v. 19), eat and drink from her (v. 21), to listen to her and work under her influence (v. 22).
Here there is had a certain familiarity with the Gospel of John that cannot helped but be noticed. A great harmony of thought and of expressions between the presentation of Ben Sirach which is made of Wisdom and that of the author of the fourth Gospel which is made of Jesus.
Ep. 1,3-6. 15-18
The chosen text for the second reading is made up of a small part of the benediction with which opens the letter to the Ephesians (vv. 3-14) and the first part of the prayer of the author for his readers (vv. 15-23).
The benediction (in Greek the adjective eulogetós is adopted here that in the New Testament is reserved only for God) and turned toward God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every blessing, gift and grave that are poured out over us by way of Christ (v. 3). Six are the motives for which the author blesses God: (a) for having chosen us in Christ from all eternity (v. 4); (b) for have made us his adopted children by way of Christ (vv. 5-6); (c) for having redeemed us by the blood of Christ (vv. 7-8); (d) for having revealed the mystery of his will to us to restore everything in Christ (vv. 9-10); (e) for have chosen Israel to know and wait for Christ (it is remembered that this title is the Greek translation of the Hebrew term “Messiah” that means “consecrated”) (vv. 11-12); (f) for having chosen also the pagans that have welcomed the Gospel of salvation (vv. 13-14).
This hymn is all addressed to the Father, primordial source of grace (in Greek cháris, that probably translates the Hebrew term hésed, that means “love, mercy” and is together with ‘emet, “fidelity”, principal characteristic of God in the Old Testament). His operating grace in our midst manifests his glory, or rather its intrinsic value, its resplendent beauty that elevates us to an incomparable and unmerited dignity.
However, the hymn also emphasizes the centrality of Christ in the plan of God. It is through him that everything is given to us and in him that the Father wants to carryout everything in the universe to its fullness (v. 10).
Fascinated by this grandiose vision, the author of the letter address then a prayer for his readers that have believed in Christ and have remained faithful to him (the Greek pístis that can mean as much faith as fidelity) so that God opens their eyes to understand always more of the greatness to which they have been called (vv. 15-18).
Jn. 1, 1-18
The Gospel text (Jn. 1,1-18) is the prologue of the fourth Gospel. This is a poem to the Word of God that was originally a Christian human in the first communities. John begins with the same words of the first book of the Bible: “In the beginning”. He wants to stress above all the relationship between the absolute beginning of everything with the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, definitive Word of the Father. From the beginning, the text proclaims the existence of a divine person, that is the Word, the same as God himself, that expresses him and reveals him, that he creates and sanctifies everything: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being not one thing came into being except through him” (Jn. 1,1-3). Whether the Old Testament or John the evangelist, the centrality of the Word in affirmed in the creating plan of God. In fact, God has created everything by means of the Word. Everything that exists is his word. Therefore, for the believer “to listen” is a way of life, and to welcome the life that is freely given by God. This creating Word manifests itself continuously in history by means of the prophets, as word of life and salvation: “What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men” (Jn. 1,4). The word is a means of communication, expression of being, condition for dialogue. God has a word, a word that itself possesses his divine condition, through which he has created everything that exists, and that has arrived to men and women communicating to them his life and his saving plan.
The most high point of the Johannine hymn is found in v. 14: “The Word became flesh and lived (literally: “threw his tent”) among us”. The creating and omnipotent word enters in history assuming the fragile and mortal condition of all men and women. The term “word” translates a very rich Greek term, logos that can mean also “plan, reason, wisdom”. Probably John alludes at the same time, to the creating word of Genesis, as to the wisdom of biblical wisdom literature, as the reason for the existence of the universe according to Greek philosophy. The term “flesh” (Greek: sarx) evokes precisely that dimension of decrepitude and debility with which the Word becomes present in the world. The affirmation of John resumes in a magnificent way the mystery of the God-with-us, the historical way of God through Jesus of Nazareth. In Christ the reason of the universe is found, the fullness of everything that exists, the meaning of history and the revelation of the ways of God. All that belongs to man and woman, being “flesh” is affirmed now by the eternal and divine Word. God has placed his “tent” in the history of men and women, in the debility of the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. The privileged place of the divine presence is now not the tent of the desert (Ex. 33,7-10; 40,35), nor the great temple of Jerusalem (1 Kings 8,10), but the historical existence and triumphal Easter of Jesus. It is right that the Christian community can say of him, “we saw his glory”, the glory of God that reveals his saving power in favor of men and women, “the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1,14).
At the end of the poem we find this affirmation: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (exegèomai)” (v. 18). John adopts the verb exegèomai, from the term “exegesis”. Jesus of Nazareth, through his words and actions, is the true and only exegesis of the Father, that is to say his explanation, his revelation. For the fourth Gospel, it is Jesus and not Moses who is the great and definitive revealer of God. The motive of the assertion is very simple. Jesus is not simply one of the prophets, though the greatest of them. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, his Logos (Word or Thought), that already before the beginning of creation was together with God (this is more the sense of the Greek participle pros, more than “together”) and he was God himself (vv. 1-2). The evangelist borrows Old Testament language about Wisdom to speak of the activity of the Word in creation and his function of revealer. Like Wisdom in Sir. 24, the Logos “set up his tent in our midst” (v. 14). He, that already in the beginning was the life of all that exists, the light of truth that shines in the darkness of ignorance, now in his humanity gives us the “power to become children of God” (v. 12) and communicates to us grace and truth (the two characteristics of God mentioned above, hessed and ‘emet), because his humanity makes visible glory, that is to say the manifestation of God (v. 14). In this prologue of John, we have a synthesis of the theology of the fourth Gospel: the Son of God descends from the divine sphere to us to be able to take us up to the divine sphere. The heart of the Father (1,18) is the place where Jesus dwells (see Jn. 1,18) and it is there that he takes all those that like the beloved disciple that at the Last Supper rested on his breast (see Jn. 13,23) believe in him and live “in him” like the branches on the vine (see Jn. 15, 1-8).
The newborn child in Bethlehem is the Word, the Son of God, perfect revelation of the Father. This is itself the great paradox of the mystery of Christmas: the Word of God is manifested in a child that does not know how to speak. Still, Jesus of Nazareth, in his humanity, reveals God to us infinitely more than any supernatural vision or human discourse though it be very profound. God becomes man, and therefore, Christmas imposes upon all a duty: to become also more human each day, more respectful of the dignity of man, because only then will we become more like the living God that has wanted to share in our human condition.