In Principio erat verbum et verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat verbum. It’s not the Gospel which we were expecting. It doesn’t speak about a manger, nor about shepherds, nor about kings from the East, nor about Mary. It’s a very different Gospel. It speaks of the birth of Jesus, yes, but it speaks in very obscure terms. It speaks of Jesus as Verbum, word, and this word was made flesh, it was made man. Through this Word, all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made what was made (Jn 1:3). It was Light, a True Light, and all those who accept the light will be reborn as sons of God. This is a gospel rich in theological truths about the mystery of the Incarnation. But is there a link between this gospel which, according to Pope Benedict XVI, summarizes all the Faith, and the story we know and love about the child born in a manger?
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, the Apostle reminds the Hebrews that all of the prophets spoke of Christ, in varied and different ways. The country had been anticipated: And you, Bethlehem, may not be called the last; the figure of a baby was prophesized, Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Is 7:14). The people of Israel were thirsty for centuries for that redeemer. And what happens? As the Baptist says: he was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not (Jn 1:10). Silence. Christ is in the world. The Messiah, the one who was expected for years and years, has finally arrived. Yet no one recognizes him.
The ignorance of the Savior, the rejection of his divinity, followed him his entire life. He suffered the most painful humiliation, that of being betrayed, rejected, unwanted. But not just on the cross, not just in his passion and death, but from the moment of his very own birth. He had to, or better yet, he wanted to experience that solitude which is the saddest and most terrifying scourge of man: she wrapped him swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Lk 2:7). There wasn’t a place for him. We are used to looking at the nativity scene with sympathetic eyes, looking at the animals, and thinking of St. Francis, and saying: “How perfect!” But let’s make something very clear: crude, repugnant and cold-hearted men who ran the inn, having seen the pregnant Madonna about to give birth at any moment, told her: “not in my house, not tonight, I’ve got other things to do, other guests, I don’t want to inconvenience them for this poor woman.” Christ, from the moment of his birth, was rejected, unknown, and unwanted.
Why did he want to experience this solitude? We read in the book of Genesis that as soon as the fruit was picked from the tree that wasn’t supposed to be touched, Eve immediately decided to offer it to Adam. At that very moment, she had an awareness of good and evil, she felt alone, and she had to share that solitude with Adam. Then, both covered themselves because they felt shame. They were fearful of God after their decision, and they covered up, and then they hid from God. The result of their awareness of good and evil, is that Adam and Eve felt alienated and far from God. They feared seeing the God whom they had offended.
From his very infancy, Christ wants us to return to that state of innocence when solitude wasn’t shameful, because there wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. Therefore, it was normal that before Mary’s birth, she had to already suffer rejection. Let’s not forget, that just before the inn with no free room, there was the murder of all babies under the age of two by Herod. It seems that even if the world didn’t recognize him, it was more for not wanting to recognize the Savior than for ignorance itself. The world, full of shame of solitude, rejects Christ from his infancy, because he appeared as a person in a Shakespearean tragedy: we don’t want to see the Light, because the Light will make manifest our nudity and our loneliness.
That which today’s Gospel—a theologically rich one—has in common with that of yesterday’s about the manger and in each Gospel, is that Christ is rejected, unknown, and unwanted. And we, unfortunately, aren’t in a position to correct the error of our ancestors. We men of today have so much fear of solitude, of the awareness of our nudity that we don’t want to even enter a Church. For some people, being at Christmas Mass once a year is already too much, not to mention every Sunday! Unless we are able to accept that solitude that we carry on our shoulders from Adam and Eve, we won’t be able to accept that Christ has come to erase our shame of being alone. There’s no shame in being wrong, in falling, in being rejected and unknown. Christ took all of these sufferings upon himself. As the Pope says, “not only this. I shouldn’t carry alone that which in reality I could never carry by alone.”
If there are some in this church today who haven’t gone to confession in a long time, don’t be afraid. If there are some in this church who haven’t gone to Mass for many years, don’t be afraid. If there are some in this church who are terrified at the fear of being alone, of being unknown, unwanted: take heart and don’t worry! Begin this Christmas to open yourself up to Christ. In the words of the Holy Father, “don’t be afraid of Christ! He takes away nothing, but gives everything. He who gives to him, receives a hundredfold. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ—and you will find true life.” Amen.
(Translated from the original Italian by B. Gonzalez.)