The Gospel for December 25th, 2016, Mass During the Day: “John, Chapter 1”
Reflection: Acceptance, Not Understanding
Let me begin by wishing readers, “Merry Christmas.” On this day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom God sent to rescue us from the darkness of sin and death. It is a reminder of His love for us, and that He is present among us. This is an occasion for joy, which I truly wish for the whole of humanity today and in the coming year.
That said, I am going to be honest. As I write this on December 23rd, I don’t feel joyful. I feel emotionally exhausted. The build-up to Christmas has worn me out. It would be easy to blame the secular-inspired hype of the season—it is a factor for sure. But I also think the Advent message is factor as well. I have tried to repent, to love my neighbor as well as my enemies, to surrender to God’s call as Mary and Joseph did, and to purify myself as John the Baptist did by going to the desert to preach. In this effort, I find myself trying to act charitably toward the other humans, a class of beings who are just so irritable even when they are trying to do right. They seem to be consistently asking more of me than I have to give, without any awareness that I might be at my limit. And keep in mind, so much of the cajoling and politicking is justified in the spirit of Christmas!
I just don’t understand why it all has to be so hard.
Furthermore, I don’t understand how the pregnant Mary could have hastened to help Elizabeth when she learned her cousin was with child too, how Joseph could have married an eternal virgin carrying a child that was not his own, or how John could have moved to the desert to preach and baptize, wearing camel hair. In comparison to the faith of all of these Advent heroes, I just feel like a worn-out failure. I don’t feel like trying any more, just two days from Christmas.
But alas, along comes the first chapter of John to usher in Christmas day. Instead of stories filled with venerable saints, John speaks with poetry, philosophy, and prophecy to announce the Messiah. About the Incarnation he says, “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” (11-12). In these words, I see part of my problem. I have been trying to understand everything: the gospels, the saints, God the Father’s salvation plan, and most of all, the other humans. When all along, Jesus was just asking me to accept Him, so that He might give me the power to become a child of God. Acceptance first, not understanding; then peace; and then joy.
The grace of that insight in God’s word is enough to relieve weeks of building tension inside.
In acceptance, the gospel becomes a source of joy. Consider the ending lines of today’s reading: “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” (16-18).
So I accept. I accept a love that I don’t fully understand, but that is revealed through Jesus Christ. I accept a destiny that I can’t control, but to which I can only surrender. And finally, I accept that I don’t understand the other humans, just as they probably don’t understand me; nevertheless through simple acts of charity, we can be joined together in our Lord through his merciful grace.
With that in mind, I feel the peace and joy of Christmas. And I wish it to all the other humans with an open heart on this joyful feast.