Christmas Day
20 Dec 2023

Reading I: Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm: 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
Reading II: Hebrews 1:1-6
Gospel: Jn 1:1-18


The Christmas vigil and “midnight” Masses—with the Christmas carols, crib scene, decorated church, messages of joy, and the gospel readings from Matthew and Luke—invite us into an old and a new experience of Christmas.  One of my aunts told me that the most sacred time of the year for her was being absorbed by the Christmas music before midnight Mass.

The gospel of John on Christmas morning now invites us to turn to reflecting a bit more intentionally on this experience for its deeper meaning—bringing the head together with the heart. The well-known Prologue of John is very different from the beginnings of the other three gospels. The outline of these verses was probably initially a hymn within some early Christian communities before the verses became the prefix for John’s gospel. They situate the meaning of Christ’s birth within the much larger history of humanity and all creation.

The first five poetic verses offer a beautiful cosmic image, starting with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The first-time listener to this phrase may wonder about the term “Word” (“logos”), but John’s community was probably already familiar with the use of this philosophical term by Philo of Alexander to describe the divine presence within creation from the beginning through which all people can know God.  In verse 17, John identifies the logos as the pre-existing Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ.

The words of “life”, “light”, and “darkness”, which are highlighted in these initial verses, provides a connection between the grand narrative and daily experience, and between (positive and negative) memories of the past and hope for the future. “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:4-5). What a Christmas message—the darkness has not and will not overcome the light of Christ and of God! We all know the power of darkness—loss, depression, war, violence, sickness, addictions, betrayal.  The Word that became flesh experienced lack of recognition and rejection (Jn 1:10-11), and yet “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17b). And like John’s community, we are to believe in that “glory as a father’s only son” (Jn 1:14) which is the true identity of Jesus. And furthermore, the good news is that we share in that same glory as “children of God” (Jn 1:12).

The first reading from Isaiah complements the message of light in the face of darkness with words of glad tidings, peace and good news (see Is. 52:7). More importantly, this is extended to “all the nations” and “the ends of the earth” (Is. 52:10; see Ps 98:2-3). Of course, this is both a hopeful message and challenge for us.  On the one hand, the pre-existing Word with God’s loving intention for life and light was and is extended to all peoples of all times and into all of creation.  At the same time, we are challenged to be instruments of this vision and practice as diverse individuals, communities, cultures/races, generations, nationalities, and as church.

“What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:4-5).



Roger Schroeder, SVD

Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD Professor of Mission and Culture