‘First things first’ is an old fashioned phrase. But, perhaps it is a phrase particularly apt for us this Christmas?
The natural order of things is certainly something John wants to impress on us; ‘in the beginning was the word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.’ God is for John both the first and last Word, the Alpha and the Omega the beginning and the end. God is your ultimate destiny and, mine. And this is surely the very best of news, or the very best present we could possibly receive?
The birth of Jesus, the word, wisdom or logos ensures that God need not be simply an abstract character; A character we have to believe in through super human strength and mental gymnastics. God comes to us instead in flesh and blood. He comes to us in vulnerability and weakness. He comes to be among us, as one with us, and for us. He comes to us as flesh. This is one of the remarkable and defining characteristics of the Christian religion. God is not simply out there somewhere, he is down here.
And, he comes to us as pure gift. He is the ultimate present. And he is no mean gift. No, he is a shared gift, humanities gift. As the prophet Isaiah notes: ‘the Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.’ And, as John stresses ‘he was the true light, which enlightens everyone.’
The basic fact, or first principle, of Christmas is bound up in these two words: All and everyone.
There is no such thing as my God, only our God; yours and mine. Just as there is no such thing as ‘my communion,’ and only ever ‘our communion.’
Jesus, God made flesh, is our present, everyone’s present and that is what we celebrate and most importantly share at Christmas. This is why the Mid Night Mass is so important. The birth of Jesus slays the myth of crass individualism by insisting that God desires nothing more than to share himself among us. The fact that this is God’s desire reminds us that he loves each and everyone of us equally and wants us to live in peace and harmony with each other. Christmas invites us to see our neighbour, friends, relatives and fellow citizens of the world as special and equally beloved by God. The tragedy is that humanity so frequently fails to value and work for the common good. This Christmas let us pledge to renew our commitment to the common good.
So what are we to do with the Jesus present? Well the answer again is given by John we are invited simply to put our hands out and receive. We can’t save up for God, we can’t buy God on credit, all we can do is receive. The gift is freely given. That is the genius of Christmas; that is the wonder of Grace.
But, one thing that I would like to suggest is that we need to nurture and cherish the gift because if we do this we learn to appreciate the best Christmas present even more; the presents value increases. Again this is a remarkable thought. All of the other presents we receive this Christmas will deteriorate in value through use and enjoyment. But, not the gift of Jesus. The gift of Jesus grows in value as we cherish it and draw on it.
So this Christmas my invitation is staggeringly simple: Why not open up your heart to Jesus, and why not extend your hands to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, for if you do what you will be given is the very grace of God; and that is a present worth having and as importantly sharing.