Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Joy to you all! How can we be joyful this Christmas? “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3:16-17). This is the cause of our joy.
Recent events and the present world situation, however, may make many people question our faith in the Father’s love. It is unfortunately very easy for us to harbour false images of God. Frequently in the Old Testament God appeared almost like a violent God and today too many in our world still subscribe to such false images.
Yet we have the First Cammandment of the Decalogue to liberate us from all such false images. We are forbidden to make graven images of God. We are forbidden to worship false images of God. If we try to live this liberating revelation to the full, we will look at the mystery and the sacredness of human life with clearer minds and more loving hearts.
The mystery of God is revealed to us in the only true image of God Himself, which is the God-given image of Jesus, for it is he who is “the image of the unseen God” (Col. 1:15). As God’s revealed image, Jesus is God’s gift to us: he is the incarnation of God’s love for humanity. He became flesh and dwelt among us. If, then, we remain united with Jesus in his mystical body, the Church, we will experience the liberating power of his grace. We will be liberated from all false images of God and learn that God’s will for all of us is love.
We celebrate the life of Jesus in two great festivals, Christmas and Easter. These feasts give us two great symbols of God’s love for us: the Manger and the Cross. Called to contemplate the love of God made incarnate in Jesus, we are confronted by the mysteries of life and death. If our hearts are sensitive enough, we must see the shadow of the Cross falling across the Manger, just as death marked our own lives on earth. Yet, this dose not leave us without hope. We continue to enjoy God’s gift of hope, for death leads to resurrection because love led to the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem: “for love is strong as death” (Song of Songs 8:6)
While the Old Testament frequently pictures God as a warrior, almost a violent God, there was already a great breakthrough in Isaiah. It is no accident that we rely so much upon this great prophet during Advent and at Christmas to help us enter more deeply into the mystery of Christmas. Isaiah is a sure guide for us because, through God’s inspiration, he came to the great insight that God saves us, not by strength or force or violence, but by suffering, the vicarious suffering of the Suffering Servant. In his public life and in his Paschal mystery, Jesus took on the role of this Suffering Servant, but even at Christmas suffering already entered into the story of his birth. There was no room for him in the inn and he had to flee into exile.
At the end of the last century, the end of the second millennium, we reflected on what a violent century we had just come through. We hoped for a new beginning, a new justice, a new peace. These last few months have harshly reminded us that there is still much violence and much suffering in the world. What does the message of Christmas say to this? Are our hopes for a better world now shattered beyond recovery? Let us come this year to Bethlehem, to the Manger, with hearts made more sensitive to the presence of evil in the world.
As we kneel before the Manger, let us remember the Cross. We remember the Cross, however, not as the victory of evil, but as the herald of the resurrection, the herald of that hope which was first enkindled in hearts at Bethlehem because “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”. This Christmas, let us pray earnestly that all human hearts will be liberated from false images of God. The message of Christmas is that it is only in God’s gift of the Son that we can see the truth of God. Jesus was born in the cave at Bethlehem and was crucified on the cross at Calvary to teach us that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). Only love can give meaning to our lives in the midst of suffering and evil.
Let us pray, “Lord God, deepen our faith, strengthen our hope, enkindle our love: and so that we may obtain what you promise make us love what you command. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen”. (Collect of the 30 Sunday of the Year)
+ John Baptist Cardinal Wu The Bishop of Hong Kong Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2001