Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on December 25, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.

Reflection on the gospel reading: I did an MA in American Literature, and my thesis was on James Agee’s novel A Death in the Family, a book that narrates the events of several days in May 1915 in the life a closely-connected family that loses in a car accident the man who is husband and father in the family. In Part II of the novel, the new widow’s brother Andrew and their elderly parents gather at her house to share their helpless grief. At the end of the night, Andrew accompanies his parents back home, and the Christmas hymn Silent Night winds through his mind as he walks along with his parents:

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by. The words had always touched him; every year they still brought back Christmas to him, for some reason, as nothing else could. Now they seemed to him as beautiful as any poetry he had ever known. He said them over to himself very slowly and calmly: just a statement. . . . The silent stars go by, he said aloud, not whispering, but so quietly he was sure they could not hear. His eyes sprang full of tears; his throat, his chest knotted into a deep sob which he subdued, and the tears itched on his cheeks. Yet in thy dark streets shineth, he sang loudly, almost in fury, within himself: the everlasting light! and upon these words a sob leapt up through him which he could not subdue but could only hope to conceal. . . . The hopes and fears, a calm and implacable voice continued within him; he spoke quietly: Of all the years. Are met in thee tonight, he whispered: and in the middle of a wide plain, the middle of the dark and silent city, slabbed beneath shadowless light, he saw the dead man, and struck his thigh with his fists with all his strength.

The scene in the novel, like the gospel narrative of the Christmas events, joins together the imminent and transcendent aspects of living. The celebration of the birth of Jesus anticipates the end of his life on the cross, and the Church’s commemoration of his birth recalls to the minds of believers the aim of Jesus’ life lies in his death and resurrection. As Andrew, his heart full of pain for the loss of his brother-in-law, accompanies his parents home, he remembers a hymn that places singers at the scene of the Savior’s birth in their imaginations. A still night, the solicitude of members of a family for one another, the gnawing raw presence of death, and the Christmas narrative knit together in Andrew the solitary, sinful, broken, and fragile lives that the birth of the Christ child encapsulates in all its anticipated grief. A Death in the Family, in this passage, points to the element in the Christmas story that includes the fragility of human existence.

As we enter into the mystery of the Word made flesh, let us not forget this day of days that the Baby who comes, comes with a purpose.

Spiritual reading:

Gift better than himself God doth not know;
Gift better than his God no man can see.
This gift doth here the giver given bestow;
Gift to this gift let each receiver be.
God is my gift, himself he freely gave me;
God’s gift am I, and none but God shall have me.
(“The Nativity of Christ,” Stanza 3, St. Robert Southwell, S.J.)

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