Mass during the Day (Jn 1: 1-18)
I have good news for you, and some not so good news for you.
The good news is: God became human for all of us, which is what we celebrate this morning on Christmas: the beautiful and lasting mystery of the Incarnation.
The not so good news is that the Gospel reading for the Mass during the Day might not be to your liking. Unlike at Midnight Mass, there’s no familiar Christmas story of Mary and Joseph traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, finding no room in the inn, and Mary giving birth and laying her son Jesus in the manger; and nothing about the shepherds in the fields being visited by angels who announce glad tidings.
And, unlike at the Mass at Dawn, there’s not even the familiar story about the shepherds coming to adore at the manger.
We don’t get those readings. The Mass during the Day focuses on the first chapter of the Gospel of John, which sounds like it’s almost from a philosophy textbook. It talks about the Word, and the Word being with God, and nothing coming to be without the Word, and someone who was in the world but whom the world did not know him, and the Word becoming flesh, and someone who existed before me coming after me, and a lot of abstract talk. It’s important to know that Jesus is the Word, and existed with God before all of creation, but it doesn’t sound very Christmas-y, does it?
It also doesn’t sound like a reading we can relate to either, does it? It’s easy to imagine Mary and Joseph in the manger, but not so easy to imagine the pre-existing Word of God.
But for me there’s a lovely part of this reading that I’ve always liked, and that all of us can relate to.
This year my mother moved into a retirement home. Our family was very excited because we had found a very nice place, but it was a real decision to cast our lot with the place we had chosen. It was a real commitment. Anyone who has moved anywhere knows it is a big decision and it requires a big commitment.
Something of the same thing happened at the Incarnation. The Gospel of John tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Now, in the original Greek in which John’s Gospel was written, the language is even more vivid. It might be better translated as, “God pitched his tent among us.”
Think about all those Bible movies where the Israelites are living in tents in the deserts, as nomads. God decided to come among us, and God pitched his tent, made his home, and dwelt among us. That’s how much God wanted to be with us. And that meant, as with a decision to move, a decision and a commitment. God decided to live among us. To cast his lot with us. God made a commitment to us.
What does that mean for us? Simply put, that God wanted to relate to us in the most intimate way possible. Sometimes people think that we worship a God who is an abstract philosophical idea or theological construct. But we don’t. We have a God who decided to become human, a person just like us. A person who slept and ate and drank. Who got tired and sick and hungry. We don’t have a God who cannot understand our pains or our struggles or our difficulties. So when you pray and imagine yourself with God you can imagine yourself speaking with someone who understands you completely. God loves us so much that he became one of us, not only to reassure us that he understands our problems, but to allow us to relate to God more easily.
Sometimes we’re so used to the Christmas story that we overlook this wonderful miracle. God could have chosen any way to reveal himself to us. God could have come as some great vision in the sky. God could have come, as a friend of mine likes to say, as the book. God could have chosen any physical manifestation at all. But God wanted us to be able to relate to him easily, and so God came to us in the most relatable way possible: as one of us. Pitching his tent among us. Living among us. Being with us. Being us.
Now, moving into a new home or apartment means some wonderful things, like new friends, new rooms to decorate, perhaps more space and sometimes a new outlook, but it also means you have to deal with all sorts of things that you might not like. A leak you didn’t know about. A longer commute. Unforeseen noises.
When God assumed our human flesh, God also decided, out of love for us, that he would put up with all sorts of human problems, too: sadness, disappointment, sadness, the death of his friends and members of his family, betrayals. God knew all that going into the deal. But it didn’t matter, because that’s how much does God love us. Even death on a Cross was not enough to prevent him from coming among us.
So this Christmas, as you think about the ways that God comes to us, you might imagine this: Imagine that one day you hear that God will be moving into your neighborhood. Imagine your neighbor tells you that God has decided to move in right next door to you.
It may sound silly, but this is, in essence, what Christmas means: God moves in with us, makes his home with us, accompanies us, lives with us, shares our joys and our struggles, eats with us, becomes a meal for us that the Eucharist. God “pitched his tent” among us in Bethlehem, and continues to live with you in your home, your apartment, your religious community or retirement home, and continues to dwell within us.
On Christmas Day and every day, until the end of time.