“The Spreading the News of God’s Glory”
Sunday, December 25, 2016
The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas Day)
Isaiah 52: 7 – 10/ Psalm 98/ Galatians 3: 29 - 4:5/ John 1: 1 - 14
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
This morning, I woke up a couple of hours earlier than I planned to, and as soon as I opened my eyes, as soon as there was thought in my mind, I felt like John the Beloved. In his experience in the island of Patmos on exile, he had a vision that was brought about as he said, “In the spirit on the Lord’s Day.” I believed I had the same experience only that I was, “in the spirit on the Lord’s birthday.” Immediately, I got to my computer and recorded what I received from God something clear.
If God is love, then consider this, “In the beginning, was the Word; and the Word was with Love; and the Word was Love. All things came into being through Love; and apart from Love, nothing came into being that has come into being. In Love was life; and the life was the light of men. Love became flesh, and dwelt among us. We saw Love’s glory, full of grace and truth.”
The Scriptures are not intended as a theological lesson for a student. The Scriptures talk about this Word, who is God and who is Love. Scriptures are a love letter, not a theological apology for the intelligent. It is a love letter written to a recipient, which is us.
For us and for our salvation, He came down from heaven, not to satisfy the requirements of a justice system, but because of love. For God so loved the world that He sent His Son for us and for our salvation, He came down from heaven. He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant made in the likeness of man. This is because of love, not because we are sinful. He loves us, and He doesn’t want us to remain in our sins because if we remain in our sins, we don’t abide in life and life is cut off as a source for us.
Isaiah 53:12, Mark 15:28, and Luke 22:37 all talk about how Jesus was numbered with the transgressors. He bore our sins not because of a justice system. We have been taught in Christianity that the reason Jesus became the sacrificial lamb is because of mankind who sinned and by law, and this sin must be atoned for. The price for this sin must be paid. All of these are true, but it is because of love. Nothing came into being apart from love.
The Word became flesh and He dwelt among us. Christ is not just present among us, not just dwelling with us, but He is in us going through our predicament, our sufferings, our pain so that no one can ask, “Where is God in all my suffering.” God is in the midst of all and experiencing it all with us.
In the story of the “Footprints in the Sand,” there were two sets of footprints in the sand, and then, in a certain portion of the journey where things were getting tough, the person just sees one set of footprints. The person asked, “Lord, You were with me through the good times, and then when the storm hit, I only saw one set of footprints. Where did You go, Lord? Where were You? Why did You leave me at this time when I was weak, when I was carrying a heavy load, when I was weary and I was in trouble?” God responded by saying, “Those are My footprints. Yours are not in the sand because I was carrying you at that point.”
We don’t understand many times that God did not just say with us. He came into us so that He experiences what we experience. In many cases, He takes over even if He is not welcome. He wasn’t welcome the first time He came here. He was light, but He was welcomed by darkness; but His love is greater than an unwelcome sign. He just knows when He is needed. He co-suffers with us; He works with us; He rejoices with us; He weeps with us; and He is with us in the process of restoring us and helping us to participate in the process of restoration.
The process of salvation involved Him fully entering into our humanity with all our weaknesses, experiences, struggles, falleness, suffering and death. He did not just choose what He likes about us. He accepted us as we are just like the prodigal son in being accepted by the father. The father did not say, “I like the fact that you came back, but I don’t like the fact that you stink.” The father accepted his son the way he was, and because of this love, it was the son himself who thought, “I better shape up. I better clean up. I better smell better. I think I would like to smell like a human being than a pig.” The response came from the prodigal son. It didn’t have to be required. This is what love does.
God is with the hungry, with the thirsty, in the stranger, in the naked, with those who suffer, with the prisoners, with the poor and suffering. God goes through all these things with us, through us, and in us. He strengthens us. Our hope is that God will be forever with us, based on His promise, until we see the fullness of our restoration, until those footprints are no longer just one set but two sets because we are again strengthened by Him, and we walk along with Him together. It is not just putting all the burden on Him, but acknowledging that we need Him to empower us.
God is the embodiment of love, of what a human being should be. God created man in His image and likeness. God is love. Whenever we act contrary to love, then, we are not being what God intended us to be. When we have hate in our hearts, we are not being the human beings that God intended us to be. We are walking against the Divine nature that we partake of that we bear as an image and a likeness.
God is unfathomable, which is why many times, love to us is unfathomable. God’s love is merciful; full of grace and truth. God saved our wretchedness and taught our hearts to fear. He relieved our fears. He keeps us safe, and He will lead us home.
St. Athanasius said, “He (the Word) has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men ... the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.”
Jesus was involved in creation, and naturally, Jesus was involved in restoration. I would say that the One Father has employed the same agent, Love, to effect the salvation of the world through the same Love who made it in the beginning. The world was created out of love by Love. This creation fell into sin and was subject to futility, and so the same Love that was involved in creation is the same Love that was involved in the restoration of the almost destroyed creation. There was the same motivation at work in each one of us.
Our God is not some power hungry, egotistical Deity that wants to hear praises every day because it flatters Him. He is not One that wants to see sacrifices being offered to Him. No, the only thing He wants to see is the love nature in Him in us also. This love is reflected in many things: in praise, in worship, in offering, in kindness, in love of others and our neighbor. He wants this incarnate also in this flesh, which is why Jesus shows us the example. Pure grace, out of love, created us. Pure grace, out of love, saves us.
In Habakkuk 1, it says that God is too holy to mingle with sinners, too holy to be involved with sin. The New Testament says, “What has light to do with darkness? What has righteousness got to do with sin?” Habakkuk says, “If you are too holy, if you are too pure to be involved with these things that are evil, then, why do you involve yourselves with sinners?” My answer is, “God is too holy not to be involved with sinners. He is too righteous to ignore the sinners.”
If we really made the grade and are considered worthy to attain to the kingdom of heaven, if and when we get there in the presence of God, and if others did not make it, then our righteousness which got us into heaven in the first place would not rest seeing that there are people who did not make it, who are suffering and will suffer for eternity for years – physically, emotionally. If we are righteous, then our righteousness and our love will feel compassion for them. In fact, it is more than what Jesus felt about the people looking like sheep without a shepherd. These people are like experiencing the worst atrocities, not in the hands of men, but in the hands of man and God’s worst enemy, which is the devil.
Jesus did not have to come down from heaven. He was in the Father’s presence, in eternal bliss, in the presence of the angels, and in everything that was holy, in harmony; and then, He looks down to earth and sees the disharmony, the darkness, the hopelessness, the conflict, the hatred and the suffering, and this made Him uneasy. If we do make it to heaven, can we stay calm, enjoying it while seeing others in hell? This is what Jesus went through, so He came down from heaven because of love.
These things are not meant to be a theological discourse or apology to a student of theology, but an experiential truth to a beneficiary like you and I. You don’t have to have an analytical, theological mind to understand these things; you only need to grasp. St. Athanasius said, “The one thing you should understand is this: the only reason God sent His Son is because He loves the world – you and I. This is what Christianity is all about. This is what Christmas is about.
We enjoy receiving gifts and being thankful for them on Christmas Day. I just hope that for the rest of the days of the year, we won’t take for granted the other gifts of God. For some, they would be wide-eyed, for others, it would be so ordinary. The fact that you awoke this morning alive is a gift. The fact that you are breathing the oxygen that God constantly gives is a gift. I pray and I hope that we would be wide-eyed and thankful for waking up alive, for having a bed to lie on, for having a house to stay in, for having family, for having friends, for having brothers and sisters, for having a Church that God gave to us a home. May we be as experiential beneficiaries, not as students of theology, never, never take these things for granted and always grasp the one important thing: the reason for the Season is that God loves us; Jesus loves us. Love has come among us. Some have failed to understand it so God spoke His final word, that is, His love for men.
Brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God, this is the way it is in the very Kingdom.