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Online Newsletter Nr. 157
|The Word in other Words|
|“And the Word was Made Flesh” (Jn. 1:14)|
Fr. Jun de Ocampo
Gospel: Jn. 1: 1 - 18 Nazareth and Bethlehem
The Holy Mass we celebrated on Christmas Day has a fixed Gospel reading. It was taken from the first chapter of John’s Gospel. During the Mass when I read this long Gospel of 18 verses, I could notice people’s eyes gradually looking blank and losing interest on the words they are hearing. It didn’t tell at all lovely story of the birth of Jesus. It was a long dry lecture describing the “Word” in what sounds like a poetry of metaphysical meanings.
John’s Gospel starts with, “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. . . .” And somewhere in the middle of the Gospel, John continues with, “And the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
Let me offer you a way of re-reading this text and imagining a lively Gospel at the same time. While listening to these texts, imagine the scene at the Gospel of the Annunciation from the Gospel of Luke where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she will conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and give birth to Jesus. We are all very much blessed to have our Masses celebrated at the Heilig Geist church in Bayernallee. At the doors of the Tabernacle itself are the engraved scenes of the Annunciation. You will realize that the images were not done without a very good purpose. Try to do two things at the same now: Imagine that scene with the angel announcing to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus,” as you listen to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
Both Gospel writers are telling us the same thing, that is, the WORD is no other than Jesus himself.
‘The WORD’ referred to by John in the Gospel is not just the words we could read from the Gospels. The Word is not just any of those words we tell each other, but a very powerful Word which God had spoken to the people He Himself created.
He is the Word that fulfilled the Biblical text we all love to quote in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” The Word is not a “what” but a “who”, not a “something” but a “Someone”. The Word is no other than “the” Person, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As soon as Mary accepted the task of conceiving and bearing a son named Jesus, this Word which is eternal, powerful and Spirit, “materialized” in the womb of Mary. Mary carried Him in her womb for nine months until she delivered Him in Bethlehem.
And Jesus became flesh – on this very spot in Nazareth of the Annunciation. God who is pure Spirit became flesh. God who created us became one like us His creatures. God the divine being became a human being. And all this happened on this very spot in Nazareth, at that very moment when the Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary . . . and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Nine months after the Annunciation in Nazareth, let us now go to the Nativity scene. The Christmas crib we have, which in German is “die Krippe”, is called in the Philippines as “Ang Belen”. This word we borrowed from the Spanish “Belen”, which refers to name of the town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. It is interesting to know that Bethlehem has a meaning. The name Bethlehem has two language roots: In Arabic, it is Bayt Lahm which literally means the “house of meat”; and in Hebrew Bet Lehem which literally means the “house of bread”.
In God’s mysterious ways, God was already pointing to us the sacred mysteries of our Christian Faith about our Lord Jesus Christ, even right at his birth. That Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, a very insignificant town in Israel that time. That there was no room in the houses, so that Jesus would be born in an animal’s shed. And where did Mary and Joseph lay the baby Jesus? They laid him in a manger. And what are mangers used for? They are used as container for animal food.
Jesus was born in a place called “house of meat”, or a “house of bread”. He was placed in a manger – container for food. What are these telling us about Jesus?
Incarnation and Eucharist:
They are pointing us very clearly about what we believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. That Jesus although he is God and therefore pure spirit, became flesh so that he could live among us human beings. We call that the Mystery of the Incarnation – from the Latin word Carne – meat, flesh, body. That Jesus would be born in Bethlehem – “house of meat” – would make a lot of sense. Bethlehem became the first house of the Body of Christ. Sometimes I call it, the “landing pad” of Jesus. Using our modern aviation language, if we imagine Jesus were coming from Heaven to earth, he made his first “touch down” on earth in Bethlehem.
When Jesus started to preach, He would refer to himself as “I am the Bread of Life, he who eats me (my flesh, my body) will have life eternal” (Jn. 6). And in Jerusalem at the Last Supper, he would make a definite pronouncement about his Body. He took bread and said, “Take and eat of this, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.” Then He commanded, “Do this in memory of me.” And that is what we are doing in the Mass on Christmas day, here at Heilig Geist Kirche, Bayernalle, Berlin.