Nativity scene, Mission Church, Kabul, 2016
The Mass of Christmas Day, unlike that celebrated during the night, instead of presenting the story of the birth of Jesus, proposes the prologue of John’s gospel, thus inviting us to reflect upon the mystery we celebrate today.
Who is the Child we see in the manger? Many would answer this question saying: He is one who is going to become famous; he will have many followers; a lot of people will convert to him and fashion their lives on his teachings. He will be so important, that men after him will start counting years from his birth. All that is true: Jesus is really the center of history. But why? He was neither an emperor, nor a king, a general or a political leader; he was neither a philosopher, nor a writer, an artist or a musician. We could answer: he was a wise man, a prophet, a teacher, the founder of a new religion. That also is right, but it is not enough to explain the importance of Jesus. How many other wise men, prophets, teachers and founders of religions have existed in history, without becoming so important as him. Moreover, if we consider the end he met, it is difficult to understand how one who was sentenced to death on a cross may have then become the most important man in history. We would rather call him a loser, a defeated person, a failure.
Saint John, in his gospel, discloses to us who really is Jesus. He is the Word of God, coeternal with God, he himself God. He is the one through whom the world was created. At a certain point this Word came into the world: “And the Word became flesh (Et Verbum caro factum est) and made his dwelling among us.” Since he was the Creator and Lord of the world, men should recognize him and welcome him with full honors; “but the world did not know him … his own people did not accept him.”
Why did the Word of God become man? So that those who would accept him may become, like him, children of God. God becomes man, so that man may become God. How can we accept him? Those who believe in him, they are the ones who accept him. We accept Jesus Christ, if we recognize his true identity: if we believe that he is not an ordinary man, but the Son of God become man.
How can we believe that? Our faith is based on the testimony of those who “saw.” Today’s gospel presents two of them, both John by name. The first one, the Baptist, gave this witness: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (Jn 1:32-34). The second John, the Apostle and Evangelist, bears his testimony in today’s gospel: “We saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son.” John was witness to the glory of Jesus on innumerable occasions, beginning from the first miracle in Cana, passing through the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, to arrive at the paschal experience of the resurrection. When he entered the empty tomb of Jesus, the gospel points out: “He saw and believed” (Jn 20:8). The eyewitnesses of Jesus saw and believed; we, relying on their testimony, believe, as well.
In today’s gospel, John states that Jesus was “full of grace and truth,” and then adds that “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Whatever we have, whatever we are, comes from him; it is a participation in his fullness. Without him we would be nothing. He came down from heaven to share with us his fullness. He did not want to keep divinity for himself; he willed to share it with us. He did not want to be the only Son of God; he willed men, who had been created on his image, to become his brothers. How can we remain unmoved in front of such a great love? God asks nothing of us but to recognize and accept his Son, whom he sent among us.