SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1 JOHN 5:5-13; PSALM 147:12-15.19-20; LUKE 5:12-16 ]

Christmas is more than just a sentimental feast celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus.  In truth, we are celebrating not just the birth of a baby destined to be a great leader but we are celebrating the Incarnation, God assuming human flesh.  The doctrine of the Incarnation is an incredible act of faith because to believe that God assumed our flesh is beyond any human conception.  How could God, the ground of existence, be present in a baby?  This question regarding the incarnation is not a new question.  It is as old as Christianity.

Right at the beginning of the Church, St John was combatting the heresy of Gnosticism.  Gnostics believed that matter was evil and only the spirit was good.  So God, being all goodness, cannot assume our flesh, since the latter is evil.  So it was posited that the Christ descended on Jesus at His baptism and then at the cross, the Christ left Jesus the Man.  In this way, the divine would not have to suffer as it was believed that God, being divine, cannot suffer.  In philosophical terms, we say that He was immutable and pure act, since His essence is identified with His existence.  He is the unchanging One.  Unlike all finite things, we are composed of potency and act because we are becoming.

It was against such a reductionist understanding of the Incarnation of our Lord that St John sought to defend.  The teaching of the Church is clear.  Jesus the man is at the same time, the Son of God.  Jesus is truly God and truly man from the moment He was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  For this reason, St John declared, “Who can overcome the world?  Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God: Jesus Christ who became by water and blood, not with water only, but with water and blood, with the Spirit as another witness – since the Spirit is the truth – so that there are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water and the blood, and all three of them agree.”   These three witnesses refer to the baptism, the death of our Lord and the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus back to life in the resurrection.

Christian Faith believes that Jesus is the Son of God, revealed at His baptism when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and the voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  (Mt 3:17)  Of course He was already the Son of God at His conception in the womb of His mother Mary.  In offering Himself to be baptized, Jesus wanted to show His solidarity with us sinners, even though as the Son of God He did not require to be forgiven of His sins.  This is what the New Testament consistently affirms.  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Cor 5:21)

Secondly, Christian Faith also affirms the death of Jesus our Lord.  Unlike the Gnostics, Christians declare with faith that Christ did die on the cross.  It is true that God, being divine, cannot die.  But in Christ who is truly God and truly man, in the one person of Christ, distinct, inseparable, undivided and unmixed, Jesus died on the cross.  It is important that Christians affirm the death of Jesus on the cross, otherwise, our salvation would be placed in doubt.  If Jesus the Christ did not die on the cross, then it means that we are not saved.  But precisely, because Jesus said “yes” to the divine will in a human way, we too also can do likewise.  We too can also give a human “yes” to the divine will as Jesus did.  Only by doing His will, can we find fullness of life.

Indeed, by believing that Jesus came both by water and blood, we are saying that Jesus the Son of God was truly man in every way even when He remained as God.  This phrase, “water and blood” is an allusion to what John saw at the crucifixion when “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.”  (Jn 19:34)  By this act, it showed that Jesus was truly a man and He really died.  In affirming the full humanity of Jesus who was at the same time the Son of God, the Church is saying, therefore, that there is nothing that God does not know about us or unable to feel with us.  Having shared in our humanity, our temptations, our struggles, our pains, hunger, sicknesses, betrayals, rejections, oppositions, being misunderstood, ridiculed and slandered, there is nothing that we can say that God has not gone through.

Scripture underscores Jesus’ real humanity in many instances.  In the gospel, we read of Jesus’ compassion for us and His vulnerability as a human being.  “Jesus was in one of the towns when a man appeared, covered with leprosy. Seeing Jesus he fell on his face and implored him. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘if you want to, you can cure me.’ Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him and said, ‘Of course I want to! Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once.”  When Jesus saw the man who was covered all over with sores and blisters on his entire body, He was so moved and horrified at the misery and suffering of the man.  Hence, we can appreciate why Jesus was so ready to take away his disease.

But more than just feeling one with the man’s pitiable condition, Jesus felt the need to touch him personally so that He could heal him not just physically but emotionally.  A leper who is infected with a skin disease is infectious.  No one would want to come near a leper, much less have the courage the touch him or her.  This was the case of St Francis of Assisi.  Once he was on a horse and he saw a beggar who was a leper.  When the leper saw St Francis, he stretched his bowl to beg for money.  St Francis was so horrified at seeing him that he dared not stop.  But upon reflection, he quickly came back not just to give some money to the leper but even kissed him!   Indeed, lepers are not just physically infectious but they are worse than the untouchables of society.  Everyone needs love, acceptance and touch to become more human and humane.  A child that has never been hugged or loved or embraced will never be able to express his or her emotions adequately.  He would stiffen up and fight shy of human touch.

Indeed, only because Jesus is truly human, can we truly say that God cares for us, understands us and loves us with both a divine and human love.  This explains why the letter to the Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”  (Heb 4:15)  Similarly, St Peter could say later, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”  (1 Pt 2:24)  Hence, the author of Hebrews concludes, “Let us, therefore, approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Heb 4:16)

However, faith in Jesus as the Son of God depends on the witness of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that made the incarnation possible. The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”  (Lk 1:35)  It was at Jesus’ baptism, that “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.”  (Mt 3:16)  His mission was accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit.  “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”  (Lk 4:1)  Citing from the prophet Isaiah, He said at the beginning of His mission, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”  (Lk 4:18)   Most of all, at His resurrection, the Spirit raised Him to new life.  St Paul wrote, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”  The Holy Spirit, therefore, is the third witness to Jesus.

In the light of what we have said, it means that Christian life is complete only if we share in the life of Christ completely.  “God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son; anyone who has the Son has life, anyone who does not have the Son does not have life.”  To share in His life therefore means to join Him in baptism through the washing away of our sins and dying to self by uniting ourselves with His passion and death; and finally rising with Him in a new life by receiving His Holy Spirit at confirmation so that we are empowered to witness to Him in our life.   However, this is not the end but an ongoing process.  We need to return to Jesus always to find strength, focus and inspiration.  This is what the gospel asks us to emulate. “His reputation continued to grow, and large crowds would gather to hear him and to have their sickness cured, but he would always go off to some place where he could be alone and pray.”  We need to hear Him often before we can ask for His healing and direction, and we need to do this through personal prayer in intimacy with Him, especially before the Blessed Sacrament.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

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