My dear brothers and sisters, finally the wait is over, and I can truly wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS! Today is born for us a Savior—Christ the Lord! Christmas is truly a time of celebration, and we Catholics love to celebrate! In fact, we don’t just have one day of Christmas, we have fifteen days to celebrate this year until the Baptism of the Lord. We who are gathered today for Mass understand the reason for the season, the true meaning of Christmas, the birthday of Jesus Christ.
And since it is a birthday, we pull out all the stops! We go nuts! This particular birthday makes us do some very strange things, like taking trees from outside and putting them inside, or taking lights from inside and putting them outside. We roast chestnuts on the fire as if we were camping, and we put ground up tree bark in our cookies. Of course, we call it cinnamon. And of course, what birthday party is complete without giving and opening presents?!
I still remember my 8th birthday. We had a party at Burger King, and I invited my best friends from school. We had Ninja Turtles party hats, Ninja Turtles table cloths, a Ninja Turtles cake. Because I, of course, wanted to be Michelangelo when I grew up. And as I opened my presents, you can guess what was inside—Ninja Turtles action figures! And the best gift of all, the bane of my mother’s good housekeeping, the Turtle Tank, which launched little plastic pizzas everywhere! Under the couch, behind the refrigerator… Come to think of it, I’m not sure why the party was at Burger King and not at Shakey’s pizza.
It’s a beautiful thing to celebrate, and more than that. I would say that it’s necessary to celebrate. We celebrate special days and special places. It is necessary because every birthday party throughout the year prepares us for the birthday we celebrate tonight. Have you ever thought about it that way? The reason we Christians celebrate birthdays is like a practice run for this very night—Christmas.
We celebrate Christmas on a particular night/day because our Lord Jesus Christ, who existed with the Father before all creation was born on a particular night. He was born in a particular place. In scientific terms, we might say that it happened at a particular coordinate in space-time. And this is a big deal.
In the prologue of John’s gospel, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”Now, in Greek, the original language of the Gospels, this word, “Word,” is “logos.”We understand that this Divine Logos of which John is speaking is the same Jesus Christ, who is born to us this night.
That means that our God, who transcends all time and space, entered time and space and was born this very night, 2,017 years ago. In one week, we will celebrate the new year of 2018. And the reason it is 2018 is because of this same baby Jesus. This baby Jesus, born in time, is the second person of the Eternal Holy Trinity. There was not a time before he existed, yet he enters our human dimension to save us.
Now, back to that word, “logos.” We have many words in English that use this term: prologue, catalogue, web log, anything that ends with –ology, and, my favorite, logic. Generally speaking, any of these things means something that gives meaning or organization to a certain topic. Biology helps us understand living things. A catalogue organizes a set of data. A prologue tells us what the book is going to be about. And logic helps us understand… the way we understand things.
John’s gospel continues: “He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be thru him, and without him nothing came to be.”
Have you ever noticed that the whole world seems to have a certain order to it? How the electrons in an atom revolve around the nucleus, just as the planets revolve around the Sun? Or how every living thing on earth has the same chemicals that make up its DNA? Or how plants conveniently turn CO2 into oxygen while animals turn oxygen into CO2? Or how rivers run into the sea, evaporate and bring rain to the land, filling up the rivers once again? It’s almost like it was planned that way.
Of course, this is not by accident.The reason the world has a certain order to it is because it was created with a logic infused into it. We may call this the “laws of nature,” but have you ever considered this: The laws of nature make it possible for all things to continue in being, without destroying themselves. It did not have to be that way. Yet it is.
For St. John the Evangelist, and for us Christians, this inner Logic of the universe has a name: Jesus Christ. The Eternal Word. The Divine Logos. The baby that was laid in a manger in Bethlehem 2,017 years ago is the very logic of the universe made flesh. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” It’s enough to make you want to drop to your knees. In fact, we will do just that in a few moments when we recite the Creed.
And God did not just create the world like a wind-up toy and let it go. He works in the world even now. John’s gospel continues, “What came to be thru him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.”
Even our human society bears the marks of the Divine Logos. From birthday presents to the numbering of the years to the very existence of the weekend, our culture and our time is infused with the traces of Jesus our Savior. He brings structure and meaning to our world, even in the small ways we take for granted.
“He was in the world, and the world came to be thru him, but the world did not know him.”
How many of the people we encounter on a daily basis can see the wonder of the Divine Logos this Christmas? How many hide the words “Merry Christmas” behind the words “Happy Holidays?” Well, even that’s not a very good disguise, because the word “Holidays” comes from “Holy Days!” Or how many see the wonder of creation and chalk it up to a cosmic accident? We live in a world and a culture that has forgotten its own story. And this story is not a concocted mythology, mind you, but a story that has played out in real, historical events. Yes, it really happened. God became man.
Western civilization was built upon this very fact: Our God has created this world with a certain order, hierarchy, and inner logic. And we can know that logic. It is not a secret. It has been revealed to us. If we want to know the meaning inherent in the universe, we need look no further than this crib, at this child, wrapped in swaddling clothes. In him all creation holds together. The arc of human history has a direction. Our society and culture have a purpose. It is to know, love, and serve the God who created us, and to be happy with him in eternal life.
Do not despair that so many of our neighbors celebrate Christmas in a purely secular way. For even those who are raised without knowing Jesus will still pick up on these traditions that our culture passes on. They will still notice the inner logic of the world around us. Try as the culture may, the culture cannot erase the traces of our Creator in all creation. For those who seek meaning to this life, even something as simple as a Christmas cookie can point to the uniqueness of this day, a day that is different from all others. Even the unbeliever can experience the glory of this blessed season.
“And we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
The song of the angels on Christmas morning is the same song we sing at the beginning of Mass. It is an echo of the song of Heaven, where this Jesus reigns forever triumphant with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The glory shining from the Christmas Star is a glimmer of the glory which the Saints will share when we are all reunited in Heaven. The Eucharist we receive in this Mass is a foretaste of the Heavenly wedding feast. Heaven and earth are truly full of his glory.
This Christmas, we celebrate with joy the day when Heaven touched earth. We celebrate the Divine Logos who became flesh and dwelt among us. We stand in awe and wonder at the great love that our Father has for us, that he would send his only Son into the world.
We celebrate the birthday of Jesus. And that is the greatest gift of all.