The Mystery of Second Sunday after Christmas
Second Sunday after Christmas
The three readings today are reflections and hymns on who is this child whose birth we celebrate.
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 24:1-2, 8-12
Sometimes we come across words spoken or written by others, which express in a gifted way something of the meaning of an occasion. For example, perhaps a particular love-song puts into words and helps make sense of what I am now experiencing – the love of a spouse or parent or child or friend, on the occasion of a wedding or birthday or funeral. Since the early church, Christians found that this reading conveyed something of the depth and mystery of Jesus.
Did you ever have the experience of going camping? Not to an established camp-site, but scouting around the countryside looking for a suitable spot to pitch tent for the night? In the verses omitted from this reading, Wisdom is looking for such a site. “I searched for rest, and looked to see in whose territory I might pitch camp.” Then she gets helpful directions from the creator: pitch your tent in Jacob. Wisdom in Scripture is not some lofty unworldly attribute, but a down-to-earth gift of practical living: seeing how to live, and putting it into action. This Wisdom comes forth from the mouth of God – a creative Word as in the beginning in Genesis; “from eternity, in the beginning, he created me.”
The tent echoes the place of the Ark of the Covenant during the years in the desert, celebrated each year to this day at the Feast of Tabernacles (Tents). It echoes the later Tabernacle, the Temple.
The Christian Temple is the Body of Christ. We are that Temple of God’s presence. In our chaos, God says, “Let there be light!” The Word was made human flesh, and pitched his tent among us, and still does so today.
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18.
“Blessed be God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the blessings of heaven in Christ.” Hard to believe? God chose us, not today, but before the world was made, to be holy and spotless. Again hard to believe? Determining before the world was made that we should become his adopted children. He can’t mean me, can he?
So may the God of our Lord Jesus Christ give you a spirit of wisdom.
In the beginning. Think back, if you can, 14 days (today is the 11th day of Christmas!). Now think back 14 years. Now 14,000 years. Now 14 million years. Now 14 billion years. They say the Big Bang was about 13.8 billion years ago. Our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. The first homo erectus perhaps 1.8 million years ago. The first known homo sapiens about half a million years ago.
Time is one way we measure physical change in creation. Before time began, in the beginning was the Word; and before the world was made, God chose us in Christ. The creative Word: “Let there be light … and God saw that it was very good.” Through him all things came to be. The evangelist must have found that the words of Genesis, and the words of Sirach, provide a way to begin to take in the mystery of Jesus, the Christ. Whatever I say about God and the works and the Word of God will just touch the surface of the mystery; whatever I say here will have its truth, but will always be more untrue than true. I want our reading of the opening of the gospel according to John to convey no over-familiarity, but some awareness of the mystery.
That same Word in flesh, incarnate, now pitches his tent among us, searching for a place to rest, seeking to make us share that rest. Not a God out there or up there in excelsis, but right here, in profundis. Or rather, there is no longer the highest and the lowest, but the highest is in the lowest and the lowest in the highest.
God said, let there be light. Now Jesus is that light, a light that shines in the dark. Like John, I am called to be a witness to that light. But Jesus goes further: “You are the light of the world!” (Matthew 5:14)
To all who accept him, he gives power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not of blood or flesh or will of man, but of God. There is a discrepancy here in the translation in the Jerusalem Bible. “To all who believe in the name of him who was born … of God himself.” The New Jerusalem Bible corrects this, in line with the Greek text: “To those who believed in his name, who were born … from God himself.” It’s even more extraordinary: it speaks of you and me! We saw his glory, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have, all of us, received.
What, literally on earth, could be the experience that led the evangelist and the early Christian community to say such extraordinary mind-blowing things? Come, Word and Wisdom made flesh, pitch your tent right here, today.
Through the Word all things came to be. Galaxies and black holes and dark matter and dark energy and tectonic plates and snails and fingernails and electrons and Higgs bosons and love and life and you and me. If it were ever all written down, I do not suppose that the world itself would hold all the books that would be written (John 21:25)
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied,
‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!’
So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night. He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.
by Minnie Louise Haskins 1875-1957
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.