Witnessing the Word: our hope met in him, through the night
Nativity of our Lord III. 12.25.2022
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14
Rev. Sergio Rodriguez, Homilist
“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world (Jn 1:9).”
¡Feliz Navidad! And Prospero Año Nuevo!
We join the church on earth and the saints above in celebrating the arrival of “our hopes and fears of all the years, met [in Christ].” His birth heralds the beginning of the great mystery and sacrament of our faith: God reconciling to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Col 1:20a). To restore us and the entire cosmos, from the most distant singularity to the quantum worlds, smaller than can be perceptively measured, Jesus became like us in every way possible. The one born to a family of impoverished Jewish construction workers, laid upon a feed trough, he somehow was the Word that was in the beginning with God. That the very birth, life, ministry, and death foretold of his child carried with him, the essence of sentient existence itself; in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
In this, we can hear echoes of the author of Hebrews saying of this infant, “He is the very reflection of God’s glory….and he sustains all things by his powerful word (Heb 1:3).” What is the word which sustains us all? How does the child in the manger become for us, the maker of children; we, the children of God? On this Christmas Day, I offer for you, the light of hope as both the origin and the destination of these questions. Hope is a burning confidence, fueled by the God who lives among us, that knows what is now, is not what is meant to be. This hope manifests in those moments of life when we acutely experience a longing for a fuller, perhaps a new life. For hope is a vulnerable word that mighty sustains all things, within us and around us.
In this opening hymn of John’s gospel, we see hope as a light that illuminates the very depths of the world around us. The absence of Shepherds and Magi aside, John perceives the beginning of hope, i.e. the birth of God-with-us, in the very mystery of God; at the moment of creation. In the beginning was the word, the Logos. For John’s listeners, Logos translated a profound word/truth of the Hebrew scriptures. That word was Word. A word that was living and active, shaping our world with God’s own world. It was a word that acknowledged that we experience now, is not in-line either with God’s first creative act (All things came into being through him) nor with his coming reign among us. Consider our reading from Isaiah. God’s people were sent into exile after a total destruction of their world by the Babylonian invaders in 586 B.C. And yet, there came a word: for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion…he has redeemed Jerusalem…and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God (Isaiah 52:8b, 9b, 10b). Here is my first point. The Word that was in the beginning with God and the Word proclaiming God’s salvation is that of Confidence. The one who made us shall redeem us and show us precisely what our very hearts expect life to truly be. Is this not the hope of the Christmas season, encapsulated by so many Hallmark moments? Is this not our perennial hope that the conflicts, the bitter divisions, the dead-end jobs, the rising prices will give way to a fuller life? A more enjoyable and peaceable life for all, especially the most vulnerable in society. The sheer fact that God, in God’s infinite majesty, took our human lot, precisely in an outcast and impoverished family, in Podunk Galilee, ought to mean something more than good vibes. It means that the God who spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways, is more of a wick-lit, than a feeling of pity for the poor. When God dwells us through faith, God himself provides the source for the burning confidence that is more than the ups and downs. Life is not meant to be lived in pity but full of grace and truth.
This insight reminds me of the story of St. Romanos, the Melodist, the most likely of hymn writers and yet the most hope-filled. He himself wrote many hymns which have been incorporated into the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Here’s a line from his Christmas Hymn: A Star more brilliant, far beyond the star, which has appeared above for us, for He, Maker of the stars, whom of old was written of: Out of Jacob, there will dawn forth as a little child, the God before the ages. St. Romanos was a Cantor in the church. In this particular order of ministry, He was called to lead the chanting at vespers, matins, and the fuller divine liturgy. He had the reputation of being a poor theologian, and an even poorer singer. What a terrible combination! Ever more so, one Christmas eve, with a few hours to spare, he found himself in a dilemma. What was he to sing? And why even bother singing if things are going to just be the same? Taking his seat at the cantor’s position, the vigil service began and thirty minutes in, this cantor found himself fast asleep at the helm. And herein lies my second point. Hope manifests itself as in those moments when we acutely experience our need for a fuller life. St. Romanos show us this experience in this way. But something marvelous happened. In his dream, he saw Mary, with the child, Jesus and in her hand was a scroll. She told him, “Eat of this, and then mount the very pulpit to proclaim the very word of hope!.” Suddenly, he woke and in good timing. He was next to lead the chants. Gazing at the crowd, he saw the Patriarch together with the rest of the Presbyters, waiting to hear, and perhaps to be disappointed. For what is, would always be with St. Romanos. What they heard next so impacted them, that even to this day, the Orthodox church sings this phrase at Christmas: On this day, the Virgen bears the one who is above all things, and the earth presents a cave to him whom no one can approach. Angels join with shepherds, singing holy songs of praise, and the Magi on their journey follow the star’s rays for unto us is born today as a little child, the God before the ages.