SOLEMNITY OF THE CHRIST MASS (Cycles ABC)
The Gospel Readings for the Vigil and Mass at Dawn
A Teaching on the Readings for the Christ Mass during Christmas Day
Readings for the Vigil Mass:
Theme ~ Share the Good News with Great Joy
Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
Our LORD God is not a distant "watchmaker God" or an impersonal "super-ego" that permeates the universe. He is a personal God with a personality and with a Divine Plan for the salvation of humanity. He possesses a powerful name that He revealed to our first parents (Gen 4:1), to Abraham (Gen 15:1), and the prophets like Moses (Ex 3:14-15): YHWH, "I AM WHO I AM." He ordained the ritual of divine worship for His people in the desert Tabernacle and later the Jerusalem Temple through an ordained priesthood with vestments, the burning of incense, an altar for offering sacrifice in atonement and sanctification, and the reestablishment of communion with Him in a sacred meal. All of these are part of Yahweh's self-expression to create a unique bond with His covenant people that culminates in the appearance of Jesus Christ—son of Mary and Son of God—He who is "the greater and more perfect tabernacle" (Heb 9:11). In the celebration of the Feast of the Christ Mass, we remember the hinge upon which all of salvation history turns, when God revealed Himself in Jesus—fully human but also fully divine—bearing the exact imprint of God's divine nature (Heb 8:5, 13) to a humanity in need of salvation from sin and death and longing for a loving sacred union with the personal God who was willing to die that we might live.
In Romans 10:15, St. Paul urges Christians to continue the work of Jesus Christ in preaching the "good news" of salvation to a fallen humanity. St. Paul writes: And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!" But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who had believed what was heard from us?" Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ (Rom 11:14-17). Today we remember the coming of Christ the King into the world, but we must also remember that His mission of salvation is ongoing and we, His disciples of the present generation, are His messengers of salvation to the world in this age between His First and Second Advent!
Gospel Reading Luke 2:1-14 ~ The Birth of Jesus
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 9 The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. 10 The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 14 "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
St. Luke begins Jesus' birth narrative with the phrase "In those days." It is a phrase St. Luke uses frequently (i.e. see 2:1; 4:2; 5:35; 6:12; 9:36; 21:23; 23:7; Acts 1:15; 2:18; 6:1; 9:3; 11:27; 21:15 etc.). He sets the historical time for Jesus' birth during the reign of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD) when Quirinius was governor of the Roman province of Syria. An influential Roman senator named Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was born in the early 50's BC and died in 21 AD. According to existing historical data, he was the governor of Syria in 6/7 AD. The Jewish historian Josephus records that when the Romans deposed Herod's, son Archelaus, they annexed Judea was annexed to the province of Syria and Quirinius (Cyrenius/Kyrenius in Greek)became the Roman legate of Syria-Judea. At that time, the Roman Senate ordered the new governor to take a census (Antiquities of the Jews, 17.13.5-18.1.1; for other references to this Roman see 17.8.4; The Jewish Wars, 7.8.1). An inscription found in Aleppo, Syria confirms the practice of a Roman census. The date is wrong for Luke's narrative, which took place before King Herod's death in what was probably 1 BC. However, Luke makes a point of stating the tax enrollment was the first during Quirinius' rule, suggesting that there were two such enrollments and that Quirinius served two terms as governor. Historically we only have a record of one enrollment, but this does not mean that an earlier enrollment did not take place because "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," as continuing archaeological discoveries confirm.
Do not miss the irony Luke provides in mentioning that God the Son is born during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar (Lk 2:1). Augustus, the grandnephew and heir of Julius Caesar, was the first Roman emperor after the death of the Roman Republic and the beginning of Rome's imperial period. He officially ruled from 27 BC to his death in 14 AD. Roman inscriptions describe Augustus as the Empire's "savior" by establishing a prolonged time of peace, the "pax Augusta." When he died, the Roman Senate divinized Augustus, declaring him a god. The irony is that the true Son of God, the true Savior of the world who brings mankind peace with Godd (Lk 2:14) is born during the era of the false savior and false god.
Luke 2:3-5 ~ So all went to be enrolled, each to his own
town. 4 And Joseph too went
up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that
is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his
betrothed, who was with child.
Historians are uncertain why Joseph felt compelled to take his wife, who was in the advanced state of pregnancy, on a week-long journey to Bethlehem for the census. There is no documentary evidence that the Romans required enrollment to take place in the town of one's birth. Joseph's decision to take Mary to Nazareth could have been because that was his permanent home while living in Nazareth was temporary, or perhaps there was a requirement to be enrolled in Bethlehem because they were both the descendants of King David. The Romans kept a close account of all those who might be the focus of a popular revolt based on a connection with a former ruler. It may also have been Joseph's and Mary's decision that Jesus must be born in the city of David to fulfill the prophecies associated with the birth of the Messiah from the lineage of the great King David (i.e., Is 11:1-5; Ez 34:23-24; Mic 5:1-4).
Before this time, the town of Bethlehem already played a role in salvation history. The very small town of Bethlehem is where most of the story of the Book of Ruth took place. The Judahite clan of Ephrathah settled in Bethlehem; it was the clan of Ruth's father-in-law Elimelech and Ruth's second husband, Boaz. Bethlehem was also the town of the great King David who was the son of Jesse, the grandson of Obed, and the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz. David became the most beloved king of ancient Israel; and, according to the prophets, the Messiah and heir of the Davidic dynasty was destined to be born in the town of Bethlehem (see Rt 1:2; 4:13, 21-22; 1 Sam 17:12; Is 7:14; 11:1-5 and Mic 5:1).
Luke 2:6a While they were there, the time came for her to
have her child, 7 and she
gave birth to her firstborn son.
The "firstborn" was the title of rank and birth order for the first male child born to a woman who had never previously had children. A firstborn son was to be dedicated to the Lord according to the Sinai Covenant (Ex 13:1-2; 11b; Num 3:13) and was due the dignity and rights of his title as "firstborn" to be his father's heir who received a double spiritual and material inheritance as well as authority over any younger siblings.
In giving birth to Jesus, it has always been the Church's teaching that Mary retained her sacred virginity:
Luke 2:6b She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid
him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The Greek word in this passage is kataluma which usually means "room" (see Lk 22:11 and in the LXX of 1 Sam 1:18 and 9:22) rather than inn, which is in Greek pandocheion (see Lk 10:34). If the house was crowded with other members of Joseph's family, then there wasn't a separate space suitable to receive Mary. Childbirth made a space ritually unclean and any person who came in contact with the bedding used during birth also became ritually unclean (see Lev 12:1-4; Lk 2:22). This law was probably the reason Joseph made use of what Christian tradition tells us was a cave where animals were kept where he used an animal stall for the birthing room and placed the newborn baby Jesus in a manger (see the Protoevangelium of James; the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem is built above a cave that is believed to be the birth place of Jesus). It was ironic that baby Jesus was placed in a manger where animals were fed. One day Jesus was destined to become where all men and women of faith were to come to be spiritually nourished in receiving His resurrected Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.
Luke 2:8-10 ~ Now
there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night
watch over their flock. 9 The
angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear. 10 The
angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news
of great joy that will be for all the people.
In Mary's hymn of praise, called the Magnificat, Mary praised God for raising up the lowly (Lk 1:52). In the first century BC and AD, no group except tanners were considered to be lower than shepherds in Judean society. They were constantly in a state of ritual impurity because of their profession; anyone who was ritually impure could not worship in the Temple until they had become ritually purified. Shepherds could not even give testimony in court (Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, page 311). And yet, God chose a group of shepherds, perhaps the very shepherds who were keeping the herd of Tamid lambs kept in the fields between Jerusalem and Bethlehem for the twice daily Temple liturgy, to be the first to witness the coming of their Redeemer-Messiah.
From the beginning of the Biblical narratives, shepherds played a significant role in salvation history. God had a special love for the lowly shepherds like Abel, Jacob, Moses (in Midian), the prophet Amos, and David as a boy. In Scripture, the "shepherd" is a positive image:
Luke 2:11-12 ~ For
today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
12 And this will be a sign
for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a
In Luke 1:20 and 36, the angel Gabriel gave a sign to Zechariah and the Virgin Mary signifying the truth of his words. Now the gathering of angels gives a sign to the shepherds: they will find the child-Messiah in a manger.
Luke 2:13-14 ~ And
suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising
God and saying: 14 "Glory to
God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
In his hymn of joy at the celebration of the circumcision and naming of his son (the "Benedictus"), Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied the Messiah coming lead the people to peace with God (Lk 1:79). Now the angels echo his prophecy and give a blessing. The blessing is not for the rebellious and disobedient but is for all men and women who recognize God's sovereignty over their lives and therefore find "favor/grace" with God.
Angels are involved with Jesus from moment of the announcement of the precursor of the Christ (St. John the Baptist) to the priest Zachariah, to the Annunciation and Incarnation of the Christ, to Jesus' birth; to when Jesus faced Satan in the Temptation, to Jesus final test in the Garden of Agony, to the events of the Resurrection and Ascension. Throughout His ministry, Jesus is surrounded by the service and adoration of angels (Lk 1:8-20, 26-38; Mt 4:11; Mk 1:13; Lk 22:43; Mt 28:2-6; Acts 1:10-11). The Church continues the angels' song of praise to the Savior heard by the shepherds on the day of His birth in her liturgy when the congregation of the faithful joins with the angels, singing: "Glory to God in the highest!" as we will sing in today's celebration of the Mass after an absence of the hymn during the season of Advent. In the re-introduction of the hymn of the angels, we must all sing with the same joy of the angels on that first Christmas day and with the same amazement of the shepherds who were the first to witness the Advent of the Messiah (see CCC 333)!
Readings for Mass at Dawn:
Theme ~ Finding the Light of the World
The Gospel Reading Luke 2:15-20 ~ The visit of the
15 When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. 18 All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. 19 And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
Finding the "sign" of the child in the manger (Lk 2:12) promised by the angels, the humble shepherds are the first to proclaim the Gospel: the "good news" that the Messiah, promised by God through His prophets, has come into the world. As Mary witnesses the fulfillment of what the angel Gabriel told her at the Annunciation and Incarnation of the Christ (Lk 1:26-38), she reflects on the events as they have unfolded and on what will happen in the future. She knows this is only the beginning of a journey that will change the course of human history. St. Luke uses Mary's contemplation to call the reader to also contemplate the meaning of these events, not just in the lives of Mary, Joseph and the others who were present at Christ's birth, but to contemplate what these events mean to the reader personally. We must continue to contemplate these events as we make our life's journey toward the salvation Jesus promised to those who believe in Him and His power to save us from our sins. The shepherds recognized the baby lying in the manger as their Savior, the promised Messiah. Will you recognize the Christ as your Savior today as He offers Himself to you in the Eucharist?
Readings at Mass during the Day
Theme: God's Word Made Flesh
God's love for us has become visible in the "flesh" through the words, actions, and loving human presence of the Lord Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophets when He was born in Bethlehem of Judah, raised in Nazareth of the Galilee, put to death, and then raised from the dead in the holy city of Jerusalem. In the second reading, the inspired writer tells us that the Christ-event is God's final revelation to the human race!
The First Reading Isaiah 52:7-10 ~ Your God is King!
7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, "Your God is King!" 8 Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry, together they should for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the LORD restoring Zion. 9 Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the LORD comforts his people, he redeems Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.
The 8th century BC prophet Isaiah proclaims a prophecy of salvation and restoration for the people of God after their period of captivity in Babylon. Their freedom is coming (verses 1-2), just as God previously set the Israelites free from Egypt. In their liberation, they will be liberated and will see that there is no other God but Yahweh (verses 3-6). In verses 7-10, the prophet tells the covenant people that their salvation is so near that it has reached the gates of Zion (Jerusalem), and its herald is the messenger "who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, 'Your God is King!'" The promised messenger will proclaim that the Lord is returning to his holy city like a victorious king. When the divine king and his people enter the city there will be a procession where songs of joy are sung, extolling the salvation brought about by the Lord; it is a future event that will be witnessed by all nations.
The prophet foretells the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile, but he is also speaking in the prophetic sense of a greater event of salvation. What he describes prophetically is the coming of Jesus Christ the King into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and Jesus' proclaiming of the "good news" His the Gospel of salvation. It is the future coming of the King of kings, heralded by God's divine messenger St. John the Baptist, but the liberation will not be from the oppression of foreign governments but from sin and death!
St. Paul will quote Isaiah 52:7 from this reading and Isaiah 53:1 in Romans 10:15 as he urges Christians to continue the work of Jesus Christ in preaching the "good news" of salvation to a fallen humanity. St. Paul writes: And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!" But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who had believed what was heard from us?" Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ (Rom 11:14-17). Today we remember the coming of Christ the King into the world, but we must also remember that His mission of salvation is ongoing and we, His disciples of the present generation, are His messengers of salvation to the world in this age between His First and Second Advent!
Responsorial Psalm 98:1-6 ~ Sing a New Song to the LORD Our King
The response is: "All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God."
1 Sing to the LORD a new song, for he had done wondrous deeds; his right hand has won victory for him, his holy arm.
2 The LORD has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice. 3 He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God. 4 Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands; break into song; sing praise.
5 Sing praise to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and melodious song. 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn sing joyfully before the King, the LORD.
God is pictured as a warrior king whose marvelous deeds have brought victory to His people. He saved His people during the Exodus liberation and He will bring them back from the Assyrian exile and the exile in Babylon. The power of God's "arm" is a poetic way of expressing God's awesome power and is referred to in the Book of Exodus and by the prophets (for example see Ex 6:6; 15:16; Dt 4:34; 5:15; 7:19; 9:28; Is 40:10; 51:5, 9, etc.). God has acted faithfully as He promised in His covenant with Israel (verse 3), and all the nations witnessed His good deeds for His people (verse 2; also see Is 96:10; Is 52:10).
Then the psalmist speaks of the promise of a universal salvation (verses 2-6). It is the salvation that was not realized in the ages of the Old Testament but promised and brought about through the marvelous works of Christ the King. In anticipation of this promise of universal salvation, the people of God are encouraged to sing "a new song." It was a "new song" that St. John heard when, in his vision, he entered into the heavenly Sanctuary in the Book of Revelation. In his vision, St. John saw the saints and angels worshiping at the throne of God where: Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. They sang a new hymn... (Rev 5:9); and later in his vision: They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne, before the four living creatures and the elders (Rev 14:3). John heard a "new song" in the midst of heavenly liturgy. It is a "new song" that we sing in our New Covenant liturgy of the Mass when we sing songs announcing that Christ the King redeems the earth and extends the gift of salvation to all people who believe in His name. It is the "new song" we sing in today's liturgy on the remembrance feast of the birth of the King of kings.
The Second Reading Hebrews 1:1-6 ~ God speaks to us
through Jesus the Christ
1 In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; 2 in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, 3 who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say: You are my son; this day I have begotten you? Or again: I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me? 6 And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world, he says: Let all the angels of God worship him.
The introductory verses to Hebrews begin with no greeting or expressing of thanksgiving normally found in the other New Testament letters. Like the prologue of the Gospel of John, the opening verses of the Letter to the Hebrews immediately address the main subject of the letter/discourse which is God the Son's eternal sonship, his pre-existence before creation, and His role as the promised Redeemer. The inspired writer's opening compares God's interaction with man in "times past" with His interaction with man in "these last days," referring to the present Messianic Age, in this pattern:
|Past days||Last days|
|having spoken||has spoken|
|to ancestors||to us|
|through the Prophets||through the Son|
You will notice in our Gospel reading that St. John moves from the pre-existence of Christ before creation, to the writer's present (or near past) time with the introduction of John the Baptist whose mission was to announce the coming of the Messiah. However, the Letter to the Hebrews moves from the writer's present time, expressed as "the final days," to the startling announcement of the pre-existence of God the Son through whom the cosmos came into being:
|John's Gospel: Past to Present||The Letter to the Hebrews: Present to Past|
|1:1-2 ~ In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God .||1:1-2a ~ In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; 2 in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son...|
|1:6-7 ~ A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.||1:2b ~ ... whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe...|
The exordium of the Letter to the Hebrews not only announces the pre-existence of Jesus before creation but also affirms that He is the eternal Son, the "Firstborn" begotten in the image of God. This passage is similar to the passage in which St. Paul writes of the pre-existence of Jesus Christ the eternal Son before the beginning of time, begotten in the image of God the Father: He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth (Col 1:15-16).
Hebrews 1:3-4 ~ ... who
is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains
all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from
sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 as far superior to the angels as the name he
has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
In the first sentence of his address (the first 4 verses in the English translation) the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews has establishs the superiority of God the Son:
It is because of His superiority that God the Father exaults the Son in offering purification from sins for mankind and in conquering death. It is because of accomplishing these victories that He has taken His place at the right hand of God; the right hand being the place of power and authority and from where the Son rules as King of all the nations of the earth. Notice that the inspired writer has not mentioned the name Jesus in his opening remarks but only identifies Him by the title "Son." The human name of God enfleshed will not be introduced until Hebrews 2:9, and yet the inspired writer has no doubt that his audience has identified "the Son" as Jesus of Nazareth. It is clear that the inspired writer delivered this homily to those who already instructed in the doctrine of salvation of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus.
Having announced the Son's superiority over the angels, the inspired writer continues by offering proof from passages of Old Testament Sacred Scripture. He illustrates the continuity between God's revelation in the past and the climax of God's revelation to man in the Son. St. Thomas Aquinas taught in verses 5-14 that St. Paul (who Aquinas believed was the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews) showed how the Son exceeds the angels by listing four aspects of the Son's superiority:
The passages in Hebrews 1:1-4 reveal the mission, the divine nature, and the power of God the Son. In declaring that the Son enjoys the privilege of being seated at the "right hand" of God, the inspired writer evokes in his audience the connection to the great Messianic psalms of King David in Psalm 110. This Psalm is the basis of one of the central themes of the Letter to the Hebrews discourse: The LORD [YHWH] declared to my Lord (Adonai), "Take your throne at my right hand, while I make your enemies your footstool. The scepter of your sovereign might the LORD [YHWH] will extend from Zion. The LORD [YHWH] says: "Rule over your enemies! Yours is princely power from the day of your birth. In holy splendor before the daystar, like the dew I begot you." The LORD [YHWH] has sworn and will not waver: "Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever" (Ps 110:1-4). Jesus announced that David wrote prophetically of Him and not about a human son in the Gospel of Luke 20:41-44.
In Hebrews 1:4, the inspired writer mentions Christ's
superiority over the angels: 4 as far
superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than
Jesus is called the "Son of God" but angels were also called "sons of God" (see Ps 29:1; 82:1; 89:6; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), as were the kings of Israel/Judah of the line of David called "sons" of God (2 Sam 7:14; 1 Chr 17:13) as part of God's covenant promise to David. Jesus ranks above all these other "sons" who are creatures of God's Creation. He ranks above the angels in that they are "messengers" (aggelos, "messenger" in the Greek and malach or mal'ak in Hebrew). Angels are created spirits who serve God, but the Son is superior to the angels in their sonship as spirits in that He is the only begotten "firstborn" Son, whereas the spirits that are God's messengers are created beings. The "firstborn" was a title indicating the heir who received the double portion of the inheritance from his father. The "younger" sons serve the "firstborn" son, just as the angels serve Christ.
Angels were intimately involved in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and in the formation of the New Covenant:
Hebrews 1:4 declares that Jesus the Son of God's superiority is connected to His "name." The introduction of the theme of the superiority of the "name" of Jesus over the angels in Hebrews 1:4 leads to the question "What is the significance of His name and how does it certify His superiority over the angels?" The intent of the inspired writer in evoking the superiority of Jesus' "name" cannot be limited to His title as "son" since angels and men like the children of Israel and the Davidic kings were also called "sons." Whenever there is a mention of one's "name" in Scripture, the reference is to the entire person: to what that person is in thought, word, deed, and desire. To "believe in the name of Jesus" is to believe everything He taught, to believe everything He did, and to be willing to obey everything He commanded. Our salvation depends on our willingness to "believe on His name" as St. Peter preached in Acts 4:12 when he said: There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. The human name which Jesus bears, as commanded by the angel Gabriel in Luke 1:31-32 when announcing to Mary her child's exalted status, is in Aramaic Yehosua (Joshua) or in proto-Hebrew, Yah'shua, which means "God saves/God is salvation" or more literally "I save" (Jesus is the English rendering of the Greek Iesous).
In his dissertation entitled Kinship by Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments, Dr. Scott Hahn writes on page 498: "The distinctive meaning of the 'Name,' as well as the singularity of Christ's divine sonship are thus clearly specified in terms of his divine primogeniture: i.e., as the younger sons are under the firstborn, so are the angels subordinate (vv. 5-6) and inferior (vv. 7-12) to Christ." In the cultural laws of primogeniture, the firstborn son received a "double portion" of the inheritance both materially and spiritually in the form of the father's blessing (see Gen 27:18-36). The younger sons were bound to acknowledge the status of the firstborn and his authority over the extended family.
Hebrews 1:5-6 ~ The Son's Name is higher than the Angels
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say: You are my son; this day I have begotten you? Or again: I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me? 6 And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world, he says: Let all the angels of God worship him.
It is Jesus designation as "Firstborn Son" which is given as the reason the angels must worship Him. In Hebrews 1:5-13 the inspired writer offers proof from Sacred Scripture, which in his time was what we call the Old Testament, to support his identification of the Son as God's divine heir and to support the claims he has made that it is the divine Son who ranks above the angels.
There are seven passages with eight Old Testament quotes in Hebrews 1:5-13, but only three Old Testament references are included in our reading (bold type indicates the portion of the passage quoted in Hebrews).
|LXX Old Testament Passages Quoted in Hebrews 1:5-6|
|1. Psalm 2:7-8 ~ I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, 'You are my son, today have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your birthright, the whole wide world as your possession.|
|2. 2 Samuel 7:14-16a ~ I shall be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does wrong I shall punish him with a rod such as men use, with blows such as mankind gives. But my faithful love will never be withdrawn from him as I withdrew it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your throne and your sovereignty will ever stand firm before me and your throne be forever secure.|
|3. Deuteronomy 32:43 ~ Exult with him, you heavens, all you sons of God worship him; for he avenges the blood of his servants and purifies his people's land.|
All the Scripture passages quoted in the Letter to the Hebrews are from the Greek translation of Old Testament known as the Septuagint. In the lesson these quotations from the Greek translation of the Old Testament will be designated by the symbol LXX. All eight quotes in Hebrews 1:5-13 are from the LXX.
In quoting each of these passages as part of the rhetorical question: to which of the angels did God ever say... the inspired writer expects his audience to answer in the negative by recalling the context of each of these Biblical passages which affirms that God never called any of His individual ministering spirits His "Son." The series of quotations in verses 5-13 begins and ends with nearly identical rhetorical questions:
|Hebrews 1:5: For to which of the angels did God ever say ...||Hebrews 1:13: But to which of the angels has he ever said...|
The title "sons of God" is used in Scripture for:
However and more importantly, the expression "sons of God" when used for angels is only used collectively. A single angel is never referred to as "a son of God" in the singular.
This designation "son/sons of God" was used to refer to the line of Davidic Kings (2 Sam 7:14). It also referred to those who lived within God's covenant family as the children of Israel were "sons of God", and to the elect who are blessed with intimacy with God (see Hos 1:10/2:2; Wis 5:5; Rom 8:14, 19). It is a title which may also have been extended to the line of Adam through Seth was the bearers of the "promise seed" of Genesis 3:15, as the phrase may be used in Genesis 6:2 and 6:4.
Psalm 2:7 quoted in Hebrews 1:5b ~ You are my
Son, this day I have begotten you...
The context of the quote from Psalm 2:7 from the Septuagint is God's Son inheriting the nations of the earth. The Apostles and disciples of the New Covenant faith community in Jerusalem quoted Psalm 2:1-2 in Acts 4:25-26 and proclaimed the fulfillment of the prophecy in this psalm in Jesus: This is what has come true: in this very city Herod and Pontius Pilate plotted together with the Gentile nations and the peoples of Israel, against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, to bring about the very thing that you in your strength and your wisdom had predetermined should happen (Acts 4:27-28). The Book of Acts records that As they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked and from that time forward they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God fearlessly (4:31).
And later in Acts 13:32-37, St. Paul, in preaching to the Jews in the Synagogue in Antioch, Pisidia, quotes from this same Psalm 2 passage and couples it with Psalm 16:10 saying: We have come here to tell you the good news that the promise made to our ancestors has come about. God has fulfilled it to their children by raising Jesus from the dead. As Scripture says in the psalms: You are my son, today I have fathered you. The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to return to corruption, is no more than what he had declared: "To you I shall give the holy things promised to David which can be relied upon." The claim made by the inspired writer in Hebrews 1:2 is supported by the quotation from the Psalms 2:7 where the Son is declared to be the "heir" of all things in creation which includes the nations of the earth.
None of David's descendants who were kings of Israel (or Judah) ever attained a universal reign over all the Gentile nations. This prophecy was only fulfilled in David's descendant Jesus of Nazareth who, upon His Ascension to the heavenly Kingdom, assumed kingship over all nations of the earth and rightly was given the title "King of kings and Lord of lords." St. Paul affirms this in his letter to St. Timothy, charging him ... to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim 6:14-15). The point which must not be missed is that Jesus' sonship is eternal and not dateable within history. That Jesus is the eternal Son begotten by God the Father is also a central theme of St. John's Gospel. However, the inspired writer of Hebrews uses the Greek word gennao "begotten" or "fathered" while St. John uses the more distinctive Greek word "only-begotten," monogene.
2 Samuel 7:14 quoted in Hebrews 1:5c ~ I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me: The context of this LXX translation of Sacred Scripture from 2 Samuel 7:14 is the prophecy given to King David by the prophet Nathan in which Yahweh forms an unconditional covenant with David which promises his dynasty will be established and his throne be secure forever! This covenant is similar to the unconditional covenant made with David's ancestor Abraham in which God promised Abraham descendants, a kingdom, and a world-wide blessing. These were covenantal blessings that were ultimately fulfilled in David's descendant Jesus of Nazareth (see Gen 12:1-3; Lk 1:32-33; Jn 7:42; Acts 13:23; etc.) and in the inheritance all New Covenant believers receive as co-heirs with Christ (see 2 Cor 6:18; Rev 21:7).
Notice that the Scripture quotations which the inspired writer uses as proofs of what was introduced in the first 4 verses also follows the structure of those verses: first the exaltation of the Son and the description of the Son as exalted heir in Hebrews 1:2, the announcement His superiority to the angels in 1:4, the Biblical quotations in 1:5-6. The structure will be completed with and the quotations which support that claim in 1:7b-13.
Deuteronomy 32:43 quoted in Hebrews 1:6b ~ Let all
the angels of God worship him (give him worship)
This quote in Hebrews 1:6 corresponds exactly to Deuteronomy 32:43 in the LXX except Hebrews 1:6 has "angels of God" instead of "sons of God" in Deuteronomy 32:43. The inspired writer may have been using a translation of the Old Testament that had "angels of God" or he may have interpreted the passage in Deuteronomy to mean "angels" and used that translation to support his argument. Introducing the third quote from Deuteronomy 32:43 (and a possible connection also to the LXX in Psalms 96:7 which is 97:7 in the New American and New Jerusalem Old Testament), the inspired writer puts the Scripture passage into the context he wants his audience to connect with by prefacing the quote with the statement in Hebrews 1:6 ~ And again, when he [God] leads the first-born into the world he [God] says: "Let all the angels of God worship him [Jesus]." It is a statement that develops the theme of divine begetting as well as Christ's exalted status as the divine Firstborn, a status that came with special prerogatives in the culture of the times and in Jesus' case, as the Resurrected "firstborn" from the dead assured His exalted position above men and angels.
When did God bring Jesus, the only begotten firstborn Son, "into the world"? What is the significance of the title "firstborn" in His relationship with God the Father and in His status as a descendant of King David? Jesus came into the world at the Incarnation when God became enfleshed in the womb of the Virgin Mary (see Lk 1:26-38). As the only begotten, firstborn Son, Jesus is not only the divine heir but the Davidic heir promised by the prophets like Ezekiel: David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them... (Ex 37:25 NJB) and Ezekiel 34: For the Lord Yahweh says this: "Look, I myself shall take care of my flock and look after it. [...]. I shall raise up one shepherd, my servant David, and put him in charge of them to pasture them; he will pasture them and be their shepherd. I, Yahweh, shall be their God and my servant David will be ruler among them. I, Yahweh, have spoken. I shall make a covenant of peace with them..." (Ez 34:11, 23-24 NJB). These prophecies were written four hundred after David's death and, as testified to by Matthew and Luke in their genealogies of Jesus of Nazareth, trace his lineage to King David and farther back in salvation history to Abraham whose unconditional covenant is also fulfilled in Jesus through whom all nations of the world are blessed: all the clans of the earth will bless themselves by you (Gen 12:3b; 18:18; 22:18; Gal 3:14; Eph 1:3 NJB).
And then driving home his argument that the Son is superior to the angels, the inspired writer asks: Are not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Heb 1:14, not in our passage), defining the role of angels as ministering or servant status and as messengers of God meant to assist Jesus Christ, the Firstborn Son in His mission to bring salvation to mankind.
The Gospel of John 1:1-18 ~ The Word of God is the True
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be 4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; 5 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. 12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name, 13 who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by man's decision but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This is he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'" 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, 17 because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.
The beautiful hymn that comprises the opening 18 verses of the prologue of the Gospel of John introduces the main themes of the 4th Gospel much like an overture sets the musical theme for a symphony. Verses 1-18 reveal seven themes that will be developed as the Gospel message unfolds in subsequent chapters:
This is the first of a series of many "sevens" in the fourth Gospel. The sum of these seven themes is expressed in Jesus "the Word," logos in Greek (John 1:1, 9, & 14). Writing in Greek, the international language of his age, St. John expresses Jesus as the divine Logos, "the Word." This significant Greek word is used 330 times in the New Testament but it is used specifically to express the Second Person of the Divine Trinity only 7 times in the New Testament and 4 times in John's Gospel (Jn 1:1 three times, and 1:14; also 2 Tim 4:2; 1 Jn 1:1; Rev 9:13).
In the Greek language of the 1st century AD, when this Gospel was written, the word logos was associated with the order and the design of the universe and with the intelligible expression of the Greek gods as they interacted with and governed man and creation. But, as so often happens in the New Testament, the inspired New Testament writers who came from the cultural, ritual, and spiritual traditions of the Old Covenant people of God used Old Covenant concepts and traditions to transform Greek words beyond their commonly understood Greek value. For example, there was no Greek word to adequately express the Hebrew concept of the Messiah, the "Anointed One" of God. Christians adopted the Greek word for "one who is smeared," christos, and transformed it to mean the promised "Messiah" who is the "Anointed One of God:" God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Christos (Christ).
In the Old Covenant tradition of the children of Israel, the divine Logos was:
But John weaves together Greek and Hebrew thought to express the Logos/Word as a Divine Person. The Word is the second person of the Most Holy Trinity. He is God the Son, the eternal Logos who was from the beginning eternally with the Father and who was the mediator of all creation and who has now, through His incarnation, become the mediator of eternal salvation:
Not only does the prologue identify Jesus as the "Divine Logos" but St. John also provides the first and clearest declaration of the deity of Jesus the Messiah, Son of God.
John 1:1-2 ~ In the beginning was the Word: the
Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the
beginning. Emphasis added.
With these opening words of the prologue of St. John's Gospel and the significant three times repetition of "the Word," St. John traces the origin of "The Word" backward into eternity to where God the Son was present with God the Father before time as we know it began. It is what Jesus expressed in His High Priestly prayer in John 17:5 when He said: Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began. In the opening verse of John's Gospel, he is teaching the Church that time, the universe, and the earth, which was created through the Word of God, will now be renewed through the same Word, the Word who has come in the flesh: Jesus the Christ.
Both John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1 begin with the same words: In the beginning... Actually in the literal translation the definite article "the" is missing. The Greek words that begin St. John's Gospel are literally "in beginning," en arche, while the first Hebrew words of the book of Genesis are also "in beginning," or b'reshith, in Hebrew. The Old Testament Greek translation, which was the most popular Old Testament text at the time Jesus walked the earth, also begins the Book of Genesis with en arche, "in beginning."
But the "beginning" in St. John's Gospel is not the same "beginning" that is described in Genesis. Genesis begins with creation as we know it: In the beginning God created.... But John's "beginning" is before creation as we know it. The other key words and imagery that link the Gospel of John 1:1-5 and Genesis 1:1-5 are the words "light" and "dark." Less obvious is the link between "God said" in Genesis and "the Word" in John's Gospel. In the creation narrative of Genesis chapter 1 the words: "God said" are repeated eight times like the refrain of a hymn (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26).
Eight is the number, according to Hebrew tradition, of regeneration, redemption, and salvation. In the Gospel of John, all those "sayings" of God are brought together in a single WORD: He who is the basis of creation. In linking Christ, the Incarnate Word (the Word made flesh), in John 1:1-5 to Genesis 1:1-5, St. John reveals the theological truth that God the Son was present with God the Father before time and creation began.
The Israelites of the Old Covenant Church recognized God as "Father" in the sense that He is:
However, Jesus revealed that Yahweh is God the Father in a sense kept hidden from the Church of the Old Covenant. Through Christ He is revealed as "eternally Father" by His relationship to His "only begotten Son." It is because God the Father eternally "fathers" God the Son that He is God the Father (see CCC 240). Even though the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity was not revealed to man until the coming of the Messiah, the truth of that revelation was hidden in Sacred Scripture before the Incarnation as the connection between Genesis 1:1-3 and John 1:1-5 reveals. As the great Catholic theologian and Scripture scholar St. Augustine taught: The New [Testament] is hidden in the Old [Testament] and the Old [Testament] is fulfilled in the New [Testament]. When we study Sacred Scripture it is important to study with this concept in mind.
and the Word was with God
The theological importance of these words is that they distinguish God the Son from God the Father. In other words, St. John the Apostle, who according to the Church Fathers is the inspired writer of this Gospel, is telling us that although the Godhead is One Holy and Eternal God, God the Word and God the Father are not the same Person even though they show the same nature in the Most Holy Trinity. It is a concept Jesus speaks of in His High Priestly prayer when He says: "Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them" (Jn 17:25-26).
and the Word was God.
Literally in the Greek text this phrase is and God [Theos] was the Word [Logos]. John only uses the Greek word Logos for the personal Christ here and in verse 14. If this prologue is the opening "overture" of St. John's Gospel symphony, then this is where the cymbals clash with a deafening sound and the audience is startled and brought to attention. These words are the first and clearest declaration of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament. These words are the climax of the two preceding statements, and they declare the unity and diversity of the Godhead (also see John 5:18; 10:29-38; 20:28).
John is not contradicting his previous statement by which he distinguished God from "the Word." He is not using the word logos only to signify an attribute of God. Instead, John is signifying a separate person of the Godhead who is at the same time distinct from the Father and yet so intimately related to the Father that He even shares His divine nature: the Word is one in substance [homoousios] with the Father. In 1967, Pope Paul VI designated that year the "Year of Faith" and summed up the truth concerning the Most Holy Trinity in what is called the Creed of the People of God: We believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. He is the eternal Word, born of the Father before time began, and one in substance with the Father, homoousios to Patri, and through him all things were made. He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, and was made man: equal therefore to the Father according to his divinity, and inferior to the Father according to his humanity and himself one, not by some impossible confusion of his natures, but by the unity of his person (Creed of the People of God n. 11).
There are three dogmas (truths) that the Catholic Church teaches about the Most Holy Trinity:
The theology of John's statement is expressed more clearly in the Catechism in CCC 253-255 in the Dogma of the Holy Trinity. A dogma is a truth the Church teaches which we must believe in order to be Catholic (emphasis is added in each citation).
John 1:2 ~ He was with God in the beginning.
The Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity was not "waiting in the wings" for the right time in salvation history to interact with man and creation. He is co-eternal with the Father. Not only is the Word co-eternal with the Father, but He is eternally in active communion in a personal relation to God the Father. St. John Chrysostom, taught on this unique relationship between the Father and the Son and creation: "In the beginning;" what that means is that he always was, and that he is eternal... For if he is God, as indeed he is, there is nothing prior to him; if he is creator of all things, then he is the First, if he is Lord of all, then everything comes after him—created things and time (Homilies on the Gospel of John, 2.4).
John 1:3-5 ~ All
things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came
to be 4 through him was
life, and this life was the light of the human race; 5 the light shines in the darkness, and
the darkness has not overcome it.
This passage reveals two basic truths about "the Word:" He is "light" and He is "life." The opening verses of the prologue have shown us that "the Word" is both united with and yet distinct from the Father. Now we address His relationship to created things. The work of creation is an activity that is common to the three divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Church teaches that creation is good because the Most Holy Trinity caused creation to come into being. Each part of creation possesses its own particular goodness and perfection. Nothing God has created is, by its nature, evil. For each one of the works of God Genesis chapter 1 recounts that: God saw that it was good.
We express this belief in God as author of a "good" creation in the Apostle's Creed and in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed that we repeat at Mass. The Creed we recite at Mass summarizes the gift that God gives man as the Author of all that is good; as Redeemer; and as Sanctifier... (CCC 15, emphasis added). The gift that God gives us is good. Would a Father give His children as gift that was bad? We in turn cooperate with that gift; for example by working to harvest the wheat and the grapes to turn them into bread and wine. We give that gift back to Him and He transforms and returns that gift of "nature" into "super-nature" in the Holy Eucharist. Human beings fall into heresy when they worship the "gift" and not the "Giver" and when they regard the gift of creation as basically evil. The Church therefore rejects the heresy of Manichaeism and all other forms of Gnosticism, which teach that God is opposed by another god who is evil or by some element of an evil cosmos (see the document "Heresies Concerning Christ"). As the Council of Florence in the 15th century teaches, The Church asserts that there is no such thing as a nature of evil, because everything in nature insofar as it is of nature is good.
The Church also teaches that creation is an act of divine love. It is good because God created it and, He invested it with a purpose and meaning:
God's plan from before creation is to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph 1:10). Creation, in the final analysis, is good because it is centered on Jesus Christ, "the Word" who came in the flesh to unite all of creation to Himself.
Returning to John 1:5 ~ the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There is a contrast symbolized in the light and the darkness imagery; it is good (the Light/Christ the Word) versus evil (the darkness). St. John will explain further about the "light" and the "darkness" (verses 9-11) and the struggle between them. Later in John 12:15-46, Jesus will describe evil and the powers of Satan as a darkness enveloping man's mind and preventing man from knowing God (see Jn 12:15-46 and 1 Jn 5:6). In addition, do not miss that there is a promised victory at the end of John 1:5. The promise that evil cannot overcome good. It is a promise we need to remember when the world seems full of evil and many innocent people are suffering. We can take courage by remembering this verse and others like it including Jesus' promise to the suffering church at Philadelphia in Asia Minor in Revelation 3:10-12 ~ I will keep you safe in the time of trial which is coming for the whole world, to put the people of the world to the test. I am coming soon: hold firmly to what you already have, and let no one take your victor's crown sway from you. Anyone who proves victorious I will make into a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and it will stay there for ever.....
John 1:6-8 ~ A
man named John was sent from God. 7 He
came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through
him. 8 He was not the
light, but came to testify to the light.
Notice the choice of words "sent from God." It is exactly the same in the Greek. The verb "sent" in Greek is apostello. The verb carries the sense of sending an envoy with a special commission. It is the verb form of the noun that Jesus used to signify the twelve men who became the spiritual fathers of the new Israel, the twelve Apostles (Apostolos in Greek). All of God's holy prophets who were sent as God's messengers before the coming of the Word were not the true Light, but they were His reflection. They prepared the world by proclaiming (witnessing to) the coming of the true Light, the Messiah.
The more literal translation is: he came for witness [martyria] to bear witness [martyreo]... The Greek word martyria [also spelled marturia] is a noun and means "witness bearer" while martyreo [also spelled martureo] is a verb denoting "to bear witness." Our English word "martyr," meaning "one who bears witness by his death," comes from the root for these words, martyus /witness. The "John" who came to witness is Yehohanan ben Zechariah (John son of Zechariah), also known as "John the Baptist." He was the son of a chief priest (who with John's mother was a descendant of Moses' brother Aaron, the first high priest; see Lk 1:5), and therefore St. John the Baptist was a chief priest himself. St. John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets.
Does it seem strange to you that this beautiful, poetic hymn should be suddenly interrupted this way? Such jarring switches in Scripture require more attention by the reader. In Luke's Gospel, more information is given about John, including his birth and his relationship as a kinsman to Jesus, but no other Gospel writer emphasizes John's unique role in salvation history in the way St. John's Gospel presents John the Baptist.
John 1:9-11 ~ The
true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world
came to be through him, but the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his
own people did not accept him.
"The Word" is "the true light" because He is the light from which all other light/ revelation of God comes. He comes into the world to enlighten all men so that through Him all the world will be transformed. Just as in the first natural creation where His light brought creation into being, so now will His coming transform men and creation.
"The Word" came into the creation that He had created and the world He created did not recognize Him (verses 10-11). The last phrase in verse 11 is such a wrenching statement: "his own people did not accept him." In the broadest sense, all people belong to God by virtue of the fact that He created them but also in a narrower sense in that Israel was set aside from all the peoples of the earth as a holy nation that belonged to God in a special way. These were the very people God took in covenant at Sinai as His people and set aside from all other peoples of the earth, the very people from which God chose to come to earth as man, and yet these people who shared his blood and flesh did not accept Him.
John 1:12-13 ~ But to those who did accept him he gave
power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name, 13 who were born not by natural
generation nor by human choice nor by man's decision but of God.
Think of the power of the statement in verse 12! To those who believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, God gave the power of divine son/daughter-ship. 1 Jn 5:1 confirms this divine gift: Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God.... The Greek word translated here as "power" is exousia. In other Bible translations, it may be rendered as "right. The use of exousia in this passage does not indicate only the possibility or the ability to become "children of God" but a legitimate right derived from the authority of the Word. It is only through the Word that we have this "power." That Christ gave us the "power" is the same way of saying that He gave us a free gift and that gift was sanctifying grace. This gift is a supernatural infusion of grace that is extended to the Church through the sacrament of Baptism. The only condition is that we have faith. The great St. Athanasius explained it this way: The Son of God became man in order that the sons of men, the sons of Adam, might become sons of God.....He [Adam] is the son of God by nature; we, by grace... (De Incarnatione contra arrianos). This is the gift of divine son-ship, and we cannot truly call ourselves "children of God" until this miracle regenerates us with "new life" into the family of God through the Sacrament of Baptism (Mk 16:10). It is what Jesus will reveal to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John chapter 3.
Notice that this divine inheritance is limited to those "who accept him." It is also important to understand that to the ancients one's name expressed the sum of the qualities that marked the nature or character of that person. To believe in the name of Jesus Christ is to accept as true the revelation contained in that name: that Jesus is fully man and fully God come to redeem the world. St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Biblical scholar and theologian, wrote: "those who believe in his name are those who fully hold the same of Christ not in any way lessening his divinity or his humanity" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary of St. John, 1:12-13).
John 1:13 ~ who
were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by man's decision
but of God.
The more literal translation is: were begotten not of bloods (plural), nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God himself. The Greek word for "blood" is actually in the plural form "bloods." To the ancients all bodily fluids were part of the life force. John defines this supernatural birth into divine son-ship in the negative by listing 3 ways we were not born into God's Covenant Family:
In other words, this is not a birth by the standards of nature expressed three ways as: not by human sperm generating descent, not by desire or lust, and not generated by procreation through human power. This is purely a supernatural birth from above; it is a free gift of faith and grace.
John 1:14 ~ And
the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the
glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
The literal translation of verse 14 is only begotten from the Father. The use of the word "only- begotten" [monogene] is important because it is only used 5 times in the New Testament of Christ as the Son of God and it is used this way only in the writings of John the Apostle (Jn 1:14; 1:18; 3:16; 3:18; and 1 Jn 4:9).
|John 1:14||the glory that he has from the Father as the only [begotten/monogene] Son of the Father...|
|John 1:18||No one has ever seen God; it is the only [begotten/monogene] Son, who is close to the Father's heart...|
|John 3:16||For this is how God so loved the world: he gave his only [begotten/monogene] Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.|
|John 3:18||No one who believes in him will be judged; but whoever does not believe is judged already, because that person does not believe in the name of God's only [begotten/monogene] Son.|
|1 John 4:9||This is the revelation of God's love for us, that God send his only [begotten/monogene] Son into the world that we might have life through him.|
In each case the Greek texts use the word monogene = mono/only and gene/begotten. This word clearly signifies that Jesus is not one of many god/sons and that He comes directly from the divine Father and not from an earthly father. He is "begotten;" He is not created.
The theological truth this verse teaches us about the nature of Jesus: The Word became flesh.....the only begotten Son of the Father... is that the Word who is God became man. Jesus is completely God and completely man. Two natures and two wills, existing in perfect harmony in the one Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity (see CCC 467 & 475). This passage expresses the unfathomable fact of the incarnation of the Son of God, as St. Paul writes in Galatians 4:4 ~ ...but when the completion of the time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born of a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law, so that we could receive adoption as sons. It is what we profess in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, on in Being with the Father...
In the 5th century the Church met in a Great Council to address the heresies that denied either Christ's true humanity or His true divinity. The Council pronounced the Church's teaching on the divinity and humanity of Christ. The ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 stated: Following the holy Fathers, therefore, we all with one accord teach the profession of faith in the one identical Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We declare that he is perfect both in his divinity and in his humanity, truly God and truly man, composed of body and rational soul; that he is consubstantial with the Father in his divinity, consubstantial with us in his humanity, like us in every respect except for sin (cf Heb. 4:15). We declare that in his divinity he was begotten in this last age of Mary the Virgin, the Mother of God, for us and for our salvation.
The Title "Son of God":
As mentioned earlier, the Old Testament the title "son(s) of God" indicated a special relationship with the Almighty. The heavenly messengers (in Greek angelos) are called "sons" of God in Job 1:6, 2:1; 38:7. It was also a title given to a Judahite king at this enthronement (see Isaiah 9:5; Psalm 2:7; 89:27; 110:3) based on God's covenant promise to David that his heir would be a "son" of God, beginning with Solomon (see 2 Sam 7:14; 1 Chr 17:13). It is for this reason that Jesus deserved the title "son" of God both in His divinity and in His humanity as the Davidic heir and rightful King of Israel. However, the chosen covenant people of Israel were also designated collective "sons" and "daughters" of God. In Exodus 4:22, Hosea 11:1, and in Jeremiah 31:20 the term "son" is used in the singular for the collective sonship of Israel and in Hosea 2:1, Isaiah 1:2, and Jeremiah 3:19 in the plural.
In the New Testament, the title "Son of God" takes on a meaning not conveyed in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the title expresses a unique relationship with God as the Father's "only begotten son," Jesus of Nazareth. From the beginning this title characterized Jesus and His mission not only in the writings of St. John (1:14; 1:18; 3:16; 3:18 and 1 Jn 4:9) but also in the Gospel of St. Luke ( Lk 1:35), and in the Gospel of St. Mark in 1:11 and 9:7 the title "Son" is revealed by God Himself. Demon spirits also divulge Jesus' title as divine "Son" in Mark 3:11 and 5:7. St. John declares that Jesus' title "Son of God" is the focus of the Jewish authorities' opposition to Jesus because it identifies His claim as the promised Messiah in John 5:18-20; 10:33; and 19:7. Jesus identifies those who make peace and those who love so genuinely as to offer God's love to their enemies as "sons of God" in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:9 and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:35.
In the Gospels, Jesus called God "My Father" (i.e. Mt 10:32-33; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10, 19, 35; 26:39, 42, 53; Mk 14:36; Lk 10:21-22; 22:29, 42; 23:34, 46; Jn 5:17; 6:32, 44; 8:19, 38, 54; 14:28; 15:15; 20:17; etc.), but He distances Himself from the controversy surrounding the title "Son of God" until His trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. He finally acknowledges His unique relationship to God as "Son" of the Father in the Gospels by quoting from the prophecy of the Davidic Messiah in Psalms 110:1 and Daniel 7:13-14, sending the High Priest into a rage (Mt 26:63-66; Mk 14:61-62; Lk 22:68-71) which results in Jesus' condemnation with the charge of blasphemy. But in the end, it is ironically the Gentile Roman officer in charge of Jesus' crucifixion who announces to the world: Truly this man was the Son of God in Mark 15:39, a fulfillment of the prophecy that the Gentile nations would come to do homage to the promised Davidic Messiah (see Is 66:18-21; Ez 34:13)!
After His Resurrection, His disciples recognized Jesus as the Davidic Messiah and Lord and the true "Son of God." It is for this reason that His title as "Son" is primarily used by the Church after Easter for it was after His Resurrection and Ascension that Jesus is enthroned in the heavenly Sanctuary as the "Son of God" and King of Kings as we read in the Second Reading: ... in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, 3 who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Heb 1:2-4).
John 1:15 ~ John
testified to him and cried out, saying, "This is he of whom I said, 'The one
who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'"
Before his birth, St. John the Baptist was chosen to prepare the covenant people for the coming of Jesus as the promised Messiah who was born several months later (Lk 1:5-17, 36). St. John the Baptist identifies himself as the prophetic voice that the prophet Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 40:3-5. John will quote from this passage himself in John 1:23. The prophet Malachi also prophesied the one who would announce the Messiah in Malachi 3:1-2 ~ Look, I shall send my messenger to clear a way before me. And suddenly the Lord whom you seek will come to his Temple, yes, the angel of the covenant for whom you long, is on his way, says Yahweh Sabaoth. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming... (NJB). In this passage, the inspired writer of the fourth Gospel irestates Jesus' pre-existence and His superior ranking.
John 1:16 ~ From
his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace...
Another translation of this passage is: Indeed, from his fullness we have received grace upon grace... The Fathers of the Church understood this passage to read as "grace for grace." St John Chrysostom and other Church Fathers saw this passage as giving testimony that the Old Testament economy of salvation giving way to the new economy of grace brought by Christ. In the Greek language, economy means "plan" or "management" and when applied to God the term refers to the major manifestations to the world of God's universal will to offer salvation to mankind. This desire for universal salvation is summed up by St. Paul in his letter to St. Timothy that God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth... (1 Tim 2:4) and also by St. Peter in his letter to the universal Church: The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance (2 Pt 3:9). It is our destiny to receive the gift of eternal life; however, whether or not we fulfill our destiny is entirely in our own hands. God has also given us the gift of "free will" to accept or reject His precious gift (see CCC 1730-32). The words "grace for grace" in verse 16 can also mean that Jesus brings a super-abundance of grace (gifts/blessings) which adds on to the existing graces of the Old Covenant. All these gifts are poured out in superabundance by the merited grace of Christ through which the "waters of eternal life" flow unceasingly.
John 1:17-18 ~ because
while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus
Christ. 18 No one has ever
seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.
For the first time in verse 17, St. John names Jesus, Yahshua/Yehosua in HebrewAramaic: "Yahweh saves/Yahweh is salvation" or more literally, "I (AM) SAVES!" There is a difference between the Law of Moses that directed the people on the path of salvation and the grace that Jesus brings. The Law was necessary to guide the people on a path to a holy life by identifying sin and providing a means to be reconciled with God through the blood sacrifice of certain animals. The Law in itself was imperfect and could not offer "salvation" because original sin and other sins could not be removed but only "covered" through animal sacrifice. Even St. Paul as an Old Covenant Jew struggled with the Law: So it is that I myself with my mind obey the law of God, but in my disordered nature I obey the law of sin (Rom 7:25). The grace brought by Jesus has the power to not only to conquer and heal sin, restoring the sinner to fellowship with God, but also to offer eternal savation those who receive His grace. See CCC 1963.
John 1:18 ~ No one has ever seen God... In the Old Testament, no one could see God and live (Ex 33:20). Men saw God indirectly and they could contemplate God's "glory" as it was revealed in the burning bush or the Glory Cloud. however, through the mystery of the Incarnation, God reveals Himself to us, and God the Son dwells among men. "Dwells" in Scripture has the meaning of "to tabernacle;" as God tabernacled with the children of Israel in the desert, so now in the Messianic Age He fills and indwells our souls as His holy Tabernacle. In our "Christ-effused" lives we have become the Temple or Tabernacle of the Holy Spirit.
John 1:18b ~ The only Son, God, who is at the Father's
side, has revealed him.
According to verse 18, we can only receive the revelation of God the Father from God the Son. The truth of the revelation is expressed in the Vatican II document Dei Verbum 2: The most intimate truth which this revelation gives us about God and the salvation of man shines forth in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the sum total of Revelation. There is no greater revelation God could give us of Himself than the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ!
Catechism References for Christmas Day readings:
Hebrews 1:1-3 (CCC 53, 69, 102, 107, 108), 1:1-2 (CCC 65), 1:3 (CCC 241, 320, 2502, 2777), 1:6 (CCC 333)
John 1:1-3 (CCC 291), 1:1 (CCC 241, 454, 2780), 1:3 (CCC 268), 1:4 (CCC 612), 1:6 (CCC 717), 1:7 (CCC 719), 1:9 (CCC 1216), 1:11 (CCC 530), 1:12-18 (CCC 1996), 1:12-13 (CCC 706), 1:12 (CCC 526, 1692), 1:13 (CCC 496, 505, 526), 1:14 (CCC 423, 445, 454, 461, 594, 705, 2466), 1:16 (CCC 423, 504), 1:17 (CCC 2787), 1:18 (151, 454, 473)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013