“The Word was with God and is God”
by Fr Mark James OP
Today Jesus Christ is born. We rejoice and are glad. We celebrate with enormous Christmas lunches. On this day, we come together as family and celebrate with special Christmas lunches. It is a time to be festive and give one another gifts. The Prince of peace is born. However, when we look around us very little seems to have changed. The poor are still poor, many of the rich are still greedy and the powerful continue to oppress. Evil still abounds in the world and sin still dominates our lives. What does it mean that Christ is born today?
Very often we think that when Jesus is born into the world or eve our own lives, it will be a very dramatic and emotional experience. Suddenly, like St Paul, we will undergo a dramatic conversion of heart and will see and know all things. This understanding is encouraged by many of the charismatic and pentecostal churches. They faint and collapse and they speak in tongues. But is all this drama and emotion necessarily the work of the Spirit? In the Catholic Church, we don’t reject speaking in tongues, or being moved by the Spirit, or apparitions of Mary. However, we are cautious in too quickly declaring them to be signs of the Spirit. Didn’t Jesus warn us against babbling or saying prayers to gain other people’s admiration (Matthew 6:5-7)? No, we are taught to have faith and to reaffirm our trust in God than to look for signs.
The story of Christmas reminds us that Jesus’ birth was not sort of dramatic event where the whole world had to sit up and take notice. No, Jesus was born in a little corner of the world, in a stable that he and his parents shared with farm animals. The first who came to acknowledge his birth were lowly shepherds, often distrusted, because they were a lower class of people and were suspected of being petty thieves. Jesus’ birth did not hit the headlines.
The Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, has suggested that often we are in too much haste and so we cannot know the birth of Christ or the Spirit in our lives. He suggested that we are impatient and want to reach the end without delay, skipping intermediate steps. We don’t like the unknown and the new. We don’t like becoming. We want to arrive before we are ready. We want Jesus to be born in us immediately without haste without delay.
Rather than the rush, Teilhard suggested, that we must learn to trust in the slow work of God. God is already working in our lives, we have already received the Spirit at baptism and confirmation. Jesus is already born in us, but we have to allow and cooperate with his gradual transformation taking place within us. We must remove the obstacles that prevent this work taking place. Teilhard compared human maturity and the spiritual life, saying:
“Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
The Gospel today speaks of the ‘Word was with God and the Word was God’ (John 1:1) from the beginning of time. God has been doing his slow work since the Big Bang, the first moment of creation. When we see ourselves as part of this slow unfolding of his love we will recognise that we are part of a mystery much greater than ourselves. Rather than fight the process and demand God’s immediate attention, we must surrender ourselves to collaborate and cooperate with the God’s plan for us and the universe. We learn to have patience and trust in God’s slow work.
The Eucharist itself is a call to trust the slow work of God. We say the same words and recall the same event at every Eucharist. Some young people call the Mass boring, but it is God constantly calling us to trust him, to be patient and to wait. Transubstantiation is already at work in our lives and in our world. We keep repeating the same words so that they can effect their slow change on us. Christ as Word and sacrament is transforming us into a new creation. Jesus’ birth is already happening in our lives and in this world, so that when the time is ripe we will see it clearly.
Even in a world, that is dominated by evil and sin God is at work. Through the birth of his Son, God is reshaping the world and each of us every moment of our lives. It is difficult to see because we are still learning to see like a contemplative. Contemplatives, like Anna and Simeon in Luke’s gospel (2:25- 38), recognised the Christ when he was presented in the Temple and so too will our hearts will erupt in joy when we recognise his closeness to us. Patience would have borne its fruit and we would see aright.