The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

Second Sunday after Christmas Year A - 2nd January 2011

Today's gospel reading presents with one of the most poetic passages of the entire New Testament.  John's words about the beginning evoke the first lines of the book of Genesis when God's spirit moved over the waters in the act of creation.

This ongoing creation begun by God reaches its climax in the proclamation that the word became flesh.  In the first creation God burst forth in a spontaneous act of love - in this new bursting forth, by sending the Son, creation is transformed and can be said to be a new creation.  It is new because, with one single impulse of God, creation is enlivened with God's physical presence.

We are all probably familiar with the phrase: "... and the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us."  It forms part of the Angelus prayer which many of us would have learned during our childhood.  This is a direct quotation from the Prologue of the Gospel of John.

This familiar phrase becomes very significant when we do a little bit of digging.  John's gospel was written originally in Greek.  Like all of the other ancient languages, New Testament (Koine) Greek had fewer words than modern languages which means that when the ancient text is translated, in this case into English, one ancient word can have many modern alternatives.  The phrase: "And the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us" (in Greek - "kai o logos sarx egeneto kai eskeenoosen en eemin") has quite an interesting meaning when translated literally.

The second part of the phrase (and dwelt amongst us - kai eskeenoosen en eemin) literally means "And Pitched His Tent Among Us."  This is a very pictorial description of what happened in the incarnation.  It can certainly be translated as "dwelt amongst us" but if we remain with the image the original author used we can get a much more nuanced translation which tells us something about what that living among us actually means.

The people of Israel were, essentially, a nomadic people.  When we think of Jerusalem we tend to think of a large modern city.  In New Testament times it was really only a large town.  The people were a people of shepherds in a landscape which was arid for much of the year.  This was a people who had to move with their flocks to make sure that they had pasture and water.  It was a precarious existence because it meant that not only did they not have the protection of city walls which might protect them against attackers - they were also extremely vulnerable to disease, wild animals and natural phenomena.

The one who pitches his tent among this people was taking on board all of the precariousness and vulnerability of that people.  To pitch your tent among these people meant to pitch it at evening time and be ready to move again in the morning if conditions demanded it.  It meant giving up any real sense of security.

This is the kind of commitment that God has made to us by becoming human.  This is not a once off event that happened once and for all time and is remote from us.  The God who sent the Son sent the one who would walk with us on our perilous journey and would walk as one of us who undergoes the same risks and challenges that we do. 

Certainly, Jesus was born once and once only.  In no sense does John suggest that he continued to be born; that would be a nonsense.  However, the important thing about the prologue of John is that it underlines for us in a very fundamental way the fact that by becoming a human being God really did, as St. Paul would put it: "take on the condition of a slave".  By becoming human God underwent a self-emptying (kenosis) that was radical and uncompromising.

When St. John says, in his first letter that we should "think of the love that the Father has lavished upon us..." he is repeating what he says in the Prologue to his gospel.  God's love for us is so great that it goes beyond all limits and expectations - lavishly, generously and totally.

This is the love that we are challenged to put into practice in our own lives.


Article posted on 1st of January 2011

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