The title „ Seek the nearness to God” is taken from the letter of Saint James. He writes: “Seek the nearness to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4, 8). The Apostle encourages the readers, to trust themselves to the word of God and his guidance. This encouragement is relevant also in our time.
TO MARYGOLD TURNER IN HIGH HALDEN, ASHFORD, KENT, WITH GRATITUDE FOR FRIENDSHIP AND ASSISTANCE
A MESSIAH DIFFERENT THAN EXPECTED
MANY JEWS EXPECTED A STRONG MESSIAH, WHO WOULD LEAD ISRAEL TO FAME AND RESPECT IN THE WORLD. A MESSIAH WHO WENT THE LOWER WAY IN THIS WORLD WITHOUT ANY VIOLENCE DID NOT FIT INTO THE PREDOMINANT EXPECTATIONS IN THE COMING MESSIAH. THEREFORE MANY JEWS REFUSED JESUS CHRIST AS THEIR MESSIAH.
1–1 John 1, 5–11
THE LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS, AND THE DARKNESS HAS NOT OVERCOME IT. THERE WAS A MAN SENT FROM GOD, WHOSE NAME WAS JOHN. HE CAME AS A WITNESS, TO BEAR WITNESS ABOUT THE LIGHT, THAT ALL MIGHT BELIEVE THROUGH HIM. HE WAS NOT THE LIGHT, BUT CAME TO BEAR WITNESS ABOUT THE LIGHT. THE TRUE LIGHT, WHICH GIVES LIGHT TO EVERYONE, COMES INTO THE WORLD. HE WAS IN THE WORLD, AND THE WORLD WAS MADE BY HIM, YET THE WORLD DID NOT KNOW HIM. HE CAME TO HIS OWN, AND HIS OWN PEOPLE DID NOT RECEIVE HIM. (JOHN 1, 5–11)
The Evangelist John says about the coming of the Messiah in Israel: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (11). The majority of the Jews in the surroundings of Jesus did not recognize him as the saviour of Israel sent by God. This could surprise us because Israel had been expecting the Messiah for many generations. Their idea about the future Messiah was misled by wishful thinking. Some Jews referred to a vision of the Prophet Daniel (cf. Daniel 7, 13–14). This prophet had been granted to see a saviour of Israel, who would be the emperor of a perpetual realm. However, the vision of a perpetual kingdom was interpreted in a single-minded way and misunderstood in a secular manner. Very likely it was not the vision of Daniel, but the inner preparedness of people to violence that nourished a false expectation of the Messiah.
The seer of Patmos, John the Evangelist, also had visions of the coming Kingdom God. We can read in Revelations, in the last book of the Bible, what he wrote down after having seen the visions. John was granted to see the Lamb in front of the throne of God. All power was given to the Lamb, who could lead to the well of life those who had come from the torment (cf. Revelations 7, 17). The visions of the Lamb of God point at the Crucified and the Risen Lord, who was sacrificed for mankind and who now lives in the glory of God as the advocate for all men before God. John mentions the Lamb more than twenty times in the Revelations. The Lamb of God is referred to in the liturgy just before Holy Communion three times. The Glory in the mass honours God with the words: “Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world”. The priest recalls the Lamb of God by saying: “This is the Lamb of God.” God chose the lamb as the symbol for his son so that people can more easily comprehend the intention of God for human beings in this world. The lamb stands for non-violence. A sheep is dumb before his shearer and never opens its mouth when led to the slaughter-house (cf. Jesaja 53,7). Jesus went through this world without using force until he died on the cross. Since his ascension he has been ruling the complete universe. Jesus says about himself on the sermon of the mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5, 5). An emperor ruling his kingdom without using force goes beyond human imagination. In the course of history secular rulers, in Europe as well as in old cultures in the near Orient, had lions made from stone or bronze to decorate their palaces with them. In this way they wanted to underline their power. Certainly they also wanted their subordinates to know that everybody would be destroyed who might oppose them, as a man would be killed if he dared to measure his strength with that of a lion. It apparently lies in the nature of human beings that they like speaking about non-violence, and they are convinced about their own non-violence, but do not always think in a non-violent manner. When an unjust war is going on, when mass-murderers or serial murderers commit their crimes, or when somebody suffers a heavy personal injustice, the hour of truth has come in their thoughts. Some people wish in such situations that God might have chosen a lion as a symbol for his Son instead of a lamb. Many Jews at the time of Jesus were yearning for a Messiah as a political and religious leader, who not at all would appear like a lamb but rather like a lion, as a leader with power, who would bring Israel to fame and dignity. This also hindered them from recognizing Jesus as the expected Messiah. The frequently mentioned lamb in the Revelations of John, questions our thoughts in regard to violence and non-violence. If violence is to be reduced in the world, it begins with the efforts to think in a non-violent way. Any outward violence can only be experienced where it is first born in the heart of people.
1–2 John 1, 1–14
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 WERE MADE THROUGH HIM, AND WITHOUT HIM WAS NOT ANYTHING MADE THAT WAS MADE. IN HIM WAS LIFE, AND THE LIFE WAS THE LIGHT OF MEN. THE LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS, AND THE DARKNESS HAS NOT OVERCOME IT. THERE WAS A MAN SENT FROM GOD, WHOSE NAME WAS JOHN. HE CAME AS A WITNESS, TO BEAR WITNESS ABOUT THE LIGHT, THAT ALL MIGHT BELIEVE THROUGH HIM. HE WAS NOT THE LIGHT, BUT CAME TO BEAR WITNESS ABOUT THE LIGHT. THE TRUE LIGHT, WHICH GIVES LIGHT TO EVERYONE, WAS COMING INTO THE WORLD. HE WAS IN THE WORLD, AND THE WORLD WAS MADE THROUGH HIM, YET THE WORLD DID NOT KNOW HIM. HE CAME TO HIS OWN, AND HIS OWN PEOPLE DID NOT RECEIVE HIM. BUT TO ALL WHO DID RECEIVE HIM, WHO BELIEVED IN HIS NAME, HE GAVE THE RIGHT TO BECOME CHILDREN OF GOD, WHO WERE BORN, NOT OF BLOOD NOR OF THE WILL OF THE FLESH NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN, BUT OF GOD. AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US, AND WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY, GLORY AS OF THE ONLY SON FROM THE FATHER, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH. (JOHN 1, 1–14)
We have various reports in the Gospel on the Son of God becoming man. The report from the Gospel of Luke is very vivid and corresponds to the feeling of people. The text by Saint John sounds somewhat mysterious. Every single word in his text makes us guess the great nearness to the mysteries of God. John wrote his Gospel at the end of the first century. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved. He was among the Apostles the one, who was especially favoured by God. His memories of the experiences with Jesus during his public performance and the long time of personal reflection and the guidance by the Holy Spirit, made him write about the mysteries of God in a different way to Luke. It is of no importance, whether we turn more to the text of Luke or to that of John. Texts alone do not make people believe in the Son of God becoming man. When the shepherds watched over the sheep in the fields outside Bethlehem, they were given the task to look for a child lying in a manger. The orders were given accompanied with much light and many angels. However, the solemnly given task did not yet lead the shepherds to faith. Something more important had to come in addition. They set out to look for the child. When they found it, they saw only a normal child in a manger. But as they were open for the holy event and as they had gone to look for the child, the grace of God came to their help. In the strength of God they could see with the eyes of faith more deeply and in this way they could approach the mystery of the divine child. The evangelist John does not speak of shepherds, angels and a manger. Inspired by the Holy Spirit he says in simple language: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (12). He underlines with these words that open-mindedness towards God is essential. And wherever people show open- mindedness toward God, he will make them “children of God” (12). For this purpose Jesus Christ “came down from heaven” (Creed). He wanted to free the way to his heavenly Father and in addition to invite us into his friendship (cf. John 15, 15). John exactly thinks of this friendship when he says: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (14). Saint Paul, who also received deep insights in the mysteries of the Son of God, speaks about the knowledge of the love of Christ that surpasses any other knowledge (cf. Ephesians 3, 19). John and Paul in their nearness to God had the privilege to grasp more profoundly the interest of God in men. This made them into cheerful messengers of the faith. Our time needs happy and convinced messengers of the faith. Some Christians allow themselves to be paralyzed by an anxious pessimism. The numbers of the faithful at mass become less. There are too few priests. Some churches have been closed or even pulled down. Quite a few Catholics cannot imagine anymore a growing of religious life. Pope Benedict favours another view. He announced a year of faith. He also pushed for a de-secularisation of the Church. We are meant to leave everything behind us that diverts the sight away from God and from what is essential. We find the strength for this in the word of God, who became man for us. The reflection on God becoming man will show us, where we need a de-secularisation or a purification of the temple. We recall the promise: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1, 12). Whenever we turn to the mystery of God becoming man and dwell on it, God will give us “the right to become children of God”. As children of God we become windows through which the divine light shines into the darkness of this world. The more windows are opened the more it becomes brighter and the more easily can we distinguish in the divine light between what God wants and what people want.
1–3 John 1, 9–16
THE TRUE LIGHT, WHICH GIVES LIGHT TO EVERYONE, WAS COMING INTO THE WORLD. HE WAS IN THE WORLD, AND THE WORLD WAS MADE THROUGH HIM, YET THE WORLD DID NOT KNOW HIM. HE CAME TO HIS OWN, AND HIS OWN PEOPLE DID NOT RECEIVE HIM. BUT TO ALL WHO DID RECEIVE HIM, WHO BELIEVED IN HIS NAME, HE GAVE THE RIGHT TO BECOME CHILDREN OF GOD, WHO WERE BORN, NOT OF BLOOD NOR OF THE WILL OF THE FLESH NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN, BUT OF GOD. AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US, AND WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY, GLORY AS OF THE ONLY SON FROM THE FATHER, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH. JOHN BORE WITNESS ABOUT HIM, AND CRIED OUT, “THIS WAS HE OF WHOM I SAID, HE WHO COMES AFTER ME RANKS BEFORE ME, BECAUSE HE WAS BEFORE ME.” FOR FROM HIS FULLNESS WE HAVE ALL RECEIVED, GRACE UPON GRACE. (JOHN 1, 9–16)
Christmas is by far the greatest event of the year. The preparations are paramount. Many market places, streets and shops are decorated. We see Christmas trees with festive lights everywhere. Believing Christians as well as people who have no sense for the mystery of the birth of Christ enjoy the trappings of Christmas, which nobody would like to miss. In the past Christians always wished a spiritual Advent. They thought of quiet hours with candles on the Advent wreath. In our time and age reflections on Christmas begin on Christmas day or later. They have a nice custom in Rome. From Christmas until Epiphany many churches in the Eternal City have a sign post over the entrance of the portal with the note: Presepe. That means: manger. On Christmas or during the following days many Romans go from one church to another to watch the mangers, which have been prepared with much love and dedication. This custom is very precious as it gives incentives to turn to the mystery of the birth of Jesus. For this reason we are glad about every manger in our churches and homes. It will strengthen and enrich our faith, if we frequently watch a manger or even many and dwell on them in Christmas time. The longer we watch a manger the more our attention will stay with the divine child in the manger. God became man. John writes in the Christmas Gospel: “The word has become flesh and lived among us“ (John 1, 14). Luke reports it more vividly saying: Mary “gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger “ (Lk 2, 7). The divine child in the manger is the most important message to the world. God does not come into the world as a powerful emperor, as the Jews of the time expected. Jesus begins his human life in a shed. He wants to go the lower way of non-violence in this world. In this way the birth of the Lord has become a programme for all people, who want to carry peace into the world without using force. A Christmas reflection gives nourishment for our spiritual life. The books of the Prophets and also the New Testament combine with the Messiah symbolic expressions like sun and light of the world. The sun gives energy. Scientists have worked out that the sun gives more energy than a billion atomic power stations could do together. Therefore the sun points at the inexhaustible energy of God. The divine energy would like to strengthen everybody’s faith continuously. Jesus said about himself: “I am the light of the world“ (John 8, 12). There is a lot of darkness in the world, which time and time again catches up with us in the course of life. The child in the manger came into this world to give orientation in the darkness. This orientation however does not come in any case. It will only be given, if our thoughts often dwell on God who became man. The star of Bethlehem is an additional reference to Christ who wants to be a light on our spiritual pilgrimage. The inner turning towards Jesus in prayer and meditation will make us see everything that happens to us in the course of the year, in a different light. God gives pleasure and shows care in many different ways in everyday life. However, the same God at times expects us to carry a cross. The faith in God who became man will never seduce us to cover up suffering and delusion with a kind of religious coat. Cross and suffering are always hard realities. Jesus himself saw the hardness of his cross and he only accepted it because his heavenly Father wanted him to do so. Meditations on the light of the world and the star of Bethlehem will help us to make out even in the darkest of crosses the star of Bethlehem. This is a light that gives hope. This star will show us the way and will point at him who took on human nature because of his love for us.