Saturday, January 2, 2016


The first reading at mass for this Saturday began this way:

Who is the liar? Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist. No one who denies the Son has the Father, but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well. Life from God’s Anointing. As for you, let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father (1 John 2:22-24).

Rather a strange and grumpy-sounding passage for the Christmas season, right? Well, in fact, the background of it gets to the very heart of the mystery of the incarnation.

Scholars are pretty sure that this letter was written against a heresy that was beginning to make its way into certain Christian communities.

“Gnosticism,” as this error was called, is itself shrouded in a lot of mystery as to its origins and even its dates. It seems to contain a wide variety of different beliefs, but one in particular is of importance here: God is so pure that he cannot possibly come in contact with the material world, which is intrinsically evil; so God creates “emanations” to be in contact with the world. One of these emanations is Jesus Christ. Thus that second sentence in the passage quoted above, about people who deny that Jesus is the Christ.

When I came upon this sentence and then reread some information about the Gnostics, I was reminded of an experience I had on Christmas Day. I held in my arms three-week old Alex. He seemed to weigh almost nothing as he slept in my arms. The most beautiful creature you could ever imagine. It made me wonder what the Blessed Mother must have felt when she held her newborn son. Every baby is, obviously, a wonder and a mystery, but our Christian faith adds to the mystery the fact that God actually chose to take on the flesh of a helpless babe in arms, to become one of us, in order to bring us salvation.

Well, the gnostics would say that God would never -- could never -- lower himself to come into such intimate contact with the concreteness of material reality.

But for us Christians, the mystery of the incarnation means that now the whole of material creation is somehow sanctified, and that our human nature has been elevated above the angels by the divine Word who took flesh and dwelt among us. God became human so that we could become divine.

When the sacred writer tells his readers, “let what you heard from the beginning remain in
you,” he’s telling them to stay true to the original teachings that they inherited from the apostles, and to reject the new-fangled gnostic influence.

Watching baby Alex as he slept was a beautiful meditation in itself. But add to that the mystery of God becoming a little babe like Alex, well, that’s beyond the ability of words to express.

That’s why we need all those beautiful songs at Christmas.  

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