Who is this child born into our midst? It's the question left before us on Christmas Eve, when the story opens with Jesus' birth to Mary and Joseph, the angels sing, and the shepherds, real working and struggling people like us, come and behold this strange new gift to a world on the edge of despair. But the readings for Christmas Day, in trying to answer this question, leave the concrete realities of first-century life in ancient Israel completely behind. Instead, they embrace the sweep of human and divine history. They look both further back and further forward to find the depth of mystery and meaning before us.
The authors of Hebrews and John were part of early Christian communities wrestling with their understanding of Jesus as the Son of God. Their words today, which open both books, touch on the heart of the mystery of their tradition -- one that they left for us living thousands of years later: that, somehow, God has come into the world through Jesus; God has entered our human story and has forever changed us and the course of human history.
Rather than telling us exactly how this has happened, John and Hebrews both leave us only with broad images of what Jesus as Son of God means: "He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being. . "
He is "God's word. . .the true light. . .and the world came into being through him. . Life itself. . .and the life was the light of all people."
These are hard images for us to grapple with in our own age: an age of scientific precision and technological innovation; a day when we expect precise and concrete accounts of history and the stories of our lives; a time when fact is much more important, it seems, than meaning.
This way of life and understanding is confronted with the rich meaning of John and Hebrews today, reminding us as Christians that the heart of our tradition is not so much built around hard fact, scientific rigor, or precision. Our faith, instead, is built around the incredible and, at some level, unexplainable mysteries of incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection -- and of the God of love and compassion who lives in the middle of those mysteries.
If we get lost and maybe a little bewildered today in the poetic language of these readings, perhaps it's because we should get lost. Losing our way in the Information Age is not necessarily a bad thing. Many times, it breaks us out of the narrow routines and paths we have put down for ourselves in our daily lives. Losing our way may mean that we relinquish control over our own destinies and risk finding something different: the road that God has prepared for our journey instead.
The authors of John and Hebrews, and the early Christians reinterpreting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, seem to point us in this direction. The powerful poetic language that greets us and the sweeping images of mystery and hope are all about changing our orientation and preparing us for a new and renewed journey of faith: one that carries us deeper into the heart of God. That's the joy of mystery in general for us, and the joy found in the mystery of Christmas. It can only draw us in deeper into the love of God and into the journey prepared for us from the beginning of the world.
The challenge of Christmas Day, then, is for us to embrace this mystery of the Christ and let its mystery break us out of our set ways of thinking and being. It's yet another opportunity for us to enter into the incomprehensible mind of God and, with it, search for new meaning and direction as a people on a journey.
Some of us are about to rush home to begin preparing Christmas dinner or host guests and family. Some of us are anxiously waiting to open our gifts. Some of us are already back at work, or are getting ready to go later today or first thing tomorrow. We are tempted to return as quickly as possible back to the normality of our daily routines; to start up the old wheels of our schedules following the holidays; to get caught up again in the everydayness and tangible realities of our lives. So rest for a few moments in the mysteries of Christmas, and ponder the incarnation, the birth of Christ before us.
Perhaps this strange and wonderful moment will call you and us, as a community, to a new journey this coming year, to a new path and a renewed understanding of ourselves and into a new way of life. What will that journey look like? In concrete, precise, measurable terms, we simply don't know. But the Good News before us today is that God in Christ is and will be our light and life for that adventure before us; and our Life and Light, promised to us from before the foundations of the universe were laid down, has been born into our midst.