The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word apparuit, which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit – there has appeared.
This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of him in all sorts of different ways. God himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 – Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has appeared. But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: ‘the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed’ (Tit 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real epiphany, the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.
December 25, 2011
Reflection – God really is mysterious, isn’t He? I see this more and more clearly as life goes on. So many things happen, both in the world at large and in our own personal lives, that make the whole business of God, and hence Meaning, Truth, Goodness… well, very mysterious, to say the least.It’s not a question of constantly having crises of faith, of being beset by doubts and constantly risking a lapse into atheistic nihilism. In some ways, that’s a cheap path out of the mysteriousness of life. After all, to simply throw up one’s hands and say, ‘well, there is no God then, and hence no real Meaning to it all!’ is one way to ‘solve’ the problem. There is no solution.
Or we can just not think too hard about it, not pay too close attention to it all. This is easier to do when one’s own immediate life is going all right; not so easy to do when sorrow and distress bust through your front door and stage a home invasion of you and yours. For many who choose the path of superficiality and unthinking, this is when faith fails.
It is really mysterious. As the Pope so beautifully reflects, and will continue to reflect in this homily, the mystery is not so much solved as deepened and made into a mystery of beauty, a luminous mystery, by this baby, this child, this strange Jesus who presents himself to us in this feast.
God has appeared—and his appearance makes the whole business of life, the world, pain and evil, sorrow and darkness, love and loss more mysterious. But a mystery in which we can find hope. We stare and stare at the little baby in the crib, in the manger, and something happens to us. We start to know that God is with us.
We still don’t know much. We don’t really know ‘what’ God is, or how his goodness and light are making their way through our lives and the life of the world. But we stare and stare at the baby, and we come to believe that He is here, anyhow. We are not alone, anyhow. And something is happening—slowly, strangely, in a fashion hard to see, hard to discern, but it is happening. Love grows, as we stop and stare at this strange appearance of God in our midst. Love grows, and with love, peace, joy, hope, and trust that as we stay with Him and keep staring, He will finally make all things well and gather all creation to Himself.
“Look towards Him and be radiant.”