My dear confreres and brothers and sisters in Christ, may your hearts be filled with joy and peace of Jesus on this Christmas Day!
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
These words from the Prologue to the Gospel of John place before us this Christmas morning a concise summary of the mystery that we celebrate today: the mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God, the Word through whom all things were made, the Word who reveals to us God’s plan of salvation, the Word who calls us out of darkness and into the light of God’s Kingdom, the Word who reveals the face of the God of Mercy, the Word who judges the father of lies and the Word who calls forth humanity to its true nature. It is this Word, full of grace and truth, who has made “his dwelling among us.” Oh, how we need the grace and truth of this Word Incarnate in our world today!
We live in an age when the ability to recognize “truth” is quickly becoming lost, or worse, irrelevant. Perhaps our contemporary clouding of truth is the natural fruit of the age of relativism that might go back to the fracturing of Christianity or to the so-called 18th century “Age of Enlightenment.” Whenever it began, the tyranny of relativism has become increasingly menacing since the philosophers of the late 19th century and through the totalitarian regimes of 20th century. In 1948, the author George Orwell well depicted this in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which he created a dystopian world dominated by “doublespeak.” In this frightening world, a governmental “Ministry of Truth” is all important and has as its primary purpose the construction of lies to fit the regime’s current interpretation of reality in order to keep people ignorant and compliant.
I believe that Orwell’s fictional depiction of tyranny through the manipulation of truth could describe the course of our recent political campaigns, debates and elections. Candidates from both major parties put forth as fact statements that were lacking in transparency, framed in misleading spin, or completely void of truth: each claiming to be the voice of patriotism and the saving force for the republic. And while we are and should be concerned about the possible influence of foreign powers in our election process, we should be even more concerned about our own domestic product of “fake news” and political manipulation of reality and disregard for facts. What had been a format of late-night comedians or supermarket tabloids now has become an effective means of forming public opinion, of undermining reputations and even of inspiring violence.
By this point you are probably wondering why I am speaking of such troubling issues in a homily for Christmas Day. Why do I speak of such depressing issues on a morning that sparkles with tinsel and colorful lights, when we are told to be of good cheer and when we gather with joy to celebrate the birthday of Jesus? I speak of such things because the truth of Christmas challenges the dark realities of our own day as freshly as it did those of the age in which Jesus was born. I speak of such things in this Christmas homily because we need to find our hope not in tinsel and bright lights, or in “brown paper packages tied up with string,” or in political parties or candidates or websites or cable channels that claim to have a monopoly on what is true and worthy of trust. On this Christmas morning I speak of such things to remind us that we are to find our hope, our joy and our peace only in the “splendor of truth” that is revealed to us in the Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus Christ. This is the gloriously good news of this Christmas day: God has come to bring us into the light of truth, and to those who accept him “he gives the power to become children of God.”
And so it is that we are grateful that God no longer speaks to us “in partial and various” ways as in the age of prophets of old. Rather, we are grateful to live in the “last days” when God “has spoken to us through the Son, … who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.” Indeed, as Isaiah once foretold, “The LORD has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; / all the ends of the earth will behold / the salvation of our God.”
Unfortunately, the world still does not recognize the truth of God’s salvation. This has been the case since Jesus first came to announce salvation to the people of his own day. So many failed to recognize in him the truth of God’s Word! Some rejected him because they would not look beyond how they had known him when he was a child; some ridiculed him for stepping beyond set traditions; some walked away from him because he demanded too much from them; some tried to trip him up because they wanted to justify themselves; some tried to silence him to maintain the comfort of the religious practice they knew. When the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate stood in judgement over him, knowing that he had the ability to free Jesus or to send him to crucifixion, he asked the question: “What is truth?” Perhaps Pilate sincerely was seeking truth in his life. I like to think so. Unfortunately, in the end, even though divine “Truth” stood before him in the flesh, Pilate sought his truth in political expediency and ordered the death of Jesus. Each of these failures to see in Jesus the full revelation of truth can be a cautionary tale to us, lest we also fail to see in him the truth dwelling among us for the salvation of the world.
My brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the Word-Made-Flesh for our salvation. In doing so, we need to remember that the truth of this day is not something to be celebrated once each year out of sentimentality or nostalgia only to be packed up once again with the seasonal decorations. No, today we acknowledge and celebrate in Jesus the saving power of God come into our world. It is only in Jesus that we can come to know the truth about God, about our world and about our very selves. As the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of the Second Vatican Council says: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. …. Christ, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (22).
Perhaps we are discouraged when we see our society increasingly influenced if not controlled by those who define reality on their own terms and to promote their own agenda. If that is the case, the message of this Christmas day should give us hope that all is not lost. After all, “What came to be through [Jesus] was life, / and this life was the light of the human race; / the light shines in the darkness, / and the darkness has not overcome it.” In fact, Jesus has promised that even the gates of hell itself will not be able to stand in the face of the Church that he has established to proclaim and to embody the Kingdom of God in Christ. Knowing this, may we never give into discouragement, but rather imitate John in testifying to the truth of God’s light, doing what we can to“ bring glad tidings, announce peace, bear good news, announce salvation, and say to Zion, “Your God is King!”