Nativity of the Lord 2020

By: Daniel Cadrin, OP

 

During the Christmas Eve liturgy, the coming of Jesus was presented with stories and images: a child is born, angels and shepherds move around this child in a manger with Mary and Joseph. But in the Christmas Day liturgy, to speak of the coming of Jesus, we have instead reflections on the event, we have more theological and solemn texts such as the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews (cf. text) and the beginning of John’s Gospel (cf. text). They speak to us of Jesus, of his origins and of who he is, but with impressive titles: the Word, the Son, the Light …

At the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, for the origins of Jesus, we have his genealogy: he is the son of David, son of Abraham, well rooted in his people. In Luke, the genealogy of Jesus goes back to the beginning of mankind: he is the son of Adam. The Gospel of John, on the other hand, goes back even further, to the very origins, to creation: The Word was at the beginning, at genesis. He is the creator, at the source of the universe. The Logos, the Word, who is with God.

And yet, and this is the heart of Christmas: this Word does not remain at a distance, confined in his deity, but comes to live among us, to pitch his tent with us. Through the Son, God takes up residence, God dwells among us. This Christmas, the Word comes to live among us and it is not a second home. All of this powerfully expresses the mystery and meaning of the Incarnation, the presence of God with us. The Most High becomes the Most Low, close by. The Word takes flesh, becomes flesh. The Creator becomes a creature. And so, we can become children of God, born of God, begotten of God.

And this Word, this living Word of God, becomes the visibility of God, whom no one has ever seen. We cannot see the mystery of the transcendent divinity, the source of all life: it is beyond us. But it is available to us through the human face of God, the image, the icon of God: Jesus Christ. He who has seen me has seen the Father (Jn 14:9). Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Paul, Col 1:15).

And this is at the heart of the long tradition of Christian art. Until the 12th-13th century, in ancient iconography, God the Father was never shown: instead, Jesus was, in the creation stories, etc. God the Father could not be represented. It was always Jesus who showed his face. Even for the ancient trinities, we often find three figures of Jesus. Then, later on, unfortunately for me, an old man was put on, which limits, encloses too much the mystery of the living God. But Fra Angelico, op, a great artist and a theologian, remained faithful to the tradition: you will not find this new image in his works. To grasp a little better who God is, at the source of all goodness, truth and beauty, let us rather look at the face of the one who became flesh, who was born, with his features of mercy, dignity and fraternity, present in many faces today.

In the Gospel, we also have the figure of John the Baptist: the witness. He does not testify to anything vague and far away, but to that light that has a human face: Jesus. Thus, the Baptist does not announce a darkness that frightens, or burdens that crush us, but a light that illuminates our personal and collective existence and gives cohesion and hope. And he shows this light not in inaccessible skies, but close by; in the midst of the world, for the Word became flesh. The role of the witness is to give and indicate signs of this presence in our midst.

On this Christmas Day, when we celebrate the coming of this light into our lives, it is good to remember those witnesses who in our own lives of faith introduced us to Jesus, and who in our families, our communities, our networks, gave us the desire to follow him. And now, we are called to the same testimony: in the midst of the world, of its confusions and obscurities, of its isolations and its search for powerful messiahs, we bear witness to a singular light, hidden but close and graspable, a light that is the Word of life, the Verb of life in our flesh.

On this feast of gift and giving, let us give thanks to the Father for the gift of his Son, his Word, through whom grace and truth come to us, and who continues to be close to us, nourishing our flesh, in the broken bread and the shared cup. Amen