3rd January >> Fr. Martin’s Gospel Reflections / Homilies on
John 1:1-18 for the Second Sunday of Christmas, Cycle B
Matthew 2:1-12 for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.
Second Sunday of Christmas, Cycle B
Gospel (Except USA)
The Word was made flesh, and lived among us
In the beginning was the Word:
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.
The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me ranks before me
because he existed before me.’
Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.
(i) Second Sunday of Christmas
It has been a difficult year for many people. Some will have lost their jobs or seen their income decrease significantly. Many of our senior citizens will have felt cut off from others because of the need to self-isolate. It has been especially difficult for grandparents who for many months have not not able to meet up with family members. Young people were not able to socialize in ways that is normal for their age. Couples who got married in the last nine months would have spent time worrying whether or not their special day could go ahead at all. Here we are at the beginning of a new year. Even though we are in very worrying times with regard to the virus, we hope the coming year will be a better one for us all.
The beginning of any new year can lend itself to being a hopeful time. The days are just beginning to get longer. We will soon see the first signs of spring. Various bulbs that we planted in early autumn will soon begin to show above ground. Every beginning contains within itself seeds of hope, whether it is the beginning of a new year, a new job, a new relationship, a new enterprise. Something new comes along, which holds great promise. As we begin a new year, our gospel reading this Sunday is itself a beginning. It is the beginning of the gospel of John, and its opening words are, ‘In the beginning’. The evangelist takes us back to a beginning before all other beginnings, to that mysterious moment before creation, before ‘all things came to be’, in the words of the gospel reading. In that beginning moment, according to the evangelist, God spoke such a perfect Word that this Word was itself diving, ‘the Word was God’. This striking gospel reading then moves to another moment of beginning, this time within the realm of human history, just over two thousand years ago, ‘the Word was made flesh, he lived among us’. Without ceasing to be God, the Word became human. This is the extraordinary mystery we are celebrating over the Christmas period
Today’s gospel reading announces that God has not remained silent. God has communicated with us through creation and, especially, through the love-filled life of Jesus. Jesus is the human face of God. The gospel reading concludes by stating that ‘no one has ever seen God’, no one that is except Jesus who was with God in the beginning and, even during his earthly life, was close to God the Father’s heart, which is why only Jesus can make God known to us. Nowhere has God revealed his heart to us or shown his face to us as he has in Jesus. Because no one, apart from Jesus, has ever seen God, we have to keep turning to Jesus to purify our image of God. We can pick up distorted images of God as we go through life. In this earthly life, we never attain to what the second reading calls the ‘full knowledge’ of God, but in so far as we keep turning towards the person of Jesus we will grow towards that full knowledge of God, which is our eternal destiny. What image of God does Jesus, the Word made flesh, give us? According to our gospel reading, Jesus revealed God to be light, the true light of all. In the ancient world, darkness was considered menacing and threatening. Jesus shows us that there is no menace or threat in God. According to the gospel reading, Jesus was full of grace and truth. He shows that God is gracious towards us, full of a love that is freely given to us; he shows that God is truthful, reliable and trustworthy. Also, because God became human in Jesus, Jesus shows God to have a deep desire to be in communion with us, to get inside our skin as it were, to suffer with us, to become as vulnerable and fragile as we all are. When we look upon Jesus, we see God’s infinite love, compassion and vulnerability.
As a human being, Jesus was fragile, vulnerable, prone to suffering and brokenness, and, yet, his life was charged with the glorious presence of God. In the words of the gospel reading, ‘we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father’. He thereby shows us that our own often fragile and broken lives can also be charged with God’s glorious presence. Just as God suffered on Calvary, God is intimately present to us when we suffer, when we feel broken and wounded. Again, in the Eucharist, which we are now celebrating, fragile human gifts of bread and wine are charged with the glorious presence of God. In becoming flesh, Jesus reveals God to be a giving God, a God who wants to give to us out of the fullness that is God. Having given, God wants us, waits for us, to receive. In the words of the gospel reading, ‘from his fullness we have, all of us, receive, yes grace upon grace’. Today’s gospel reading offers us an insight into God which can keep us hopeful and grateful as we begin a new year. It invites us to spend the year receiving from the fullness that God has given us in Jesus.
(ii) Second Sunday of Christmas
We are familiar with the saying: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me. Like a lot of proverbial sayings, this one expresses a truth, but by no means the whole truth. We know from experience that words can be very harmful. Somebody’s reputation can be unjustly undermined because somebody else puts out a story about this person. The story may have some truth in it, but it is likely to be only one of many stories that could be told about the person, and, if it becomes the dominant story, an injustice is done to that person. I remember once seeing a collection of old posters that were commonly displayed in Britain during the Second World War. One of them read, ‘Careless talk costs lives’. That poster expresses a truth which applies as much to peace time as to war time. Careless talk can cost lives, not necessarily in the sense that it results in people being shot, but in the sense that it can seriously damage or even destroy a person’s reputation. Careless talk can be damaging in other ways. We are all aware from our experience how words spoken in anger can damage a relationship. Words can be either harmful or life-giving. The proverb, ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never arm me’ does not seem to take seriously enough the power of language, a power that can be for good or for ill.
Today’s gospel reading from the gospel of John could be understood as a hymn to the power of language, God’s language. It begins, ‘In the beginning was the Word’. That Word that God spoke in the beginning became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Here was now a Word that could not only be heard, but could be seen and touched as well. The words we speak reveal who we are only to a limited extent. There is always much more to us than is revealed in our words. However, the Word God spoke in the beginning revealed God fully, and when this Word became flesh in Jesus, he became the fullest revelation of God that was possible in human form. God said all that could be said about who he was in the person of his Son. To look on Jesus is to look on God. As Jesus says to Philip, later on in John’s gospel, ‘he who sees me sees the Father’. God has spoken to us in a language we can understand, the language of a human life. This Word who is Jesus is full of the life of God, radiant with the light of God. He calls on us to receive from his fullness, grace upon grace. He does not force his fullness upon people. At one point in John’s gospel he turns to the twelve and asks, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter on that occasion spoke for us all when he said, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life’. Jesus had the words of eternal life because he himself was the Word of life.
The words people speak to us do not always do us good. The words we hear from various quarters do not always leave us blessed. On the contrary, they can leave us damaged and diminished. The Word God spoke to us in his Son has greatly blessed and enriched us. St. Paul recognizes this in the second reading today when he sings, ‘Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ’. Having been blessed by God’s Word in this way, we are called to bless others by the words we speak, by the lives we live. We are called to keep on receiving from the fullness that is always being given to us in Christ, so that we can enrich others from that fullness. As was said of John the Baptist in today’s gospel reading, we are to be witnesses who speak for the light.
Today we might give thanks for the times when we have spoken for the light, when the words we spoke or wrote gave life and strength to someone, or brought some light into a situation of darkness or cover-up. These were the times when our words had something of the quality of the Word that God spoke in the beginning and that became flesh in the person of Jesus. Parents have a wonderful opportunity to speak such words to their children, as have spouses to each other, and those unmarried to people close to them. All of us in different ways have the potential to speak words that make a difference for the better, that leave people more alive and enlightened. We can speak and live in a way that is experienced by others as good news. As we begin a new year we might resolve to speak words that have something of the life-giving quality of God’s Word, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.
From Fr. Martin’s daily reflections