The Christmas mystery is all about Epiphany—the revelation in the flesh of the Father’s plan of loving goodness, a plan to bring all things under the headship of Christ in one body, a cosmic-organic symphony of shared life.
The second reading for the Mass on this Solemnity is from Ephesians, the place in Scripture where this plan is most fully laid out. The particular passage culminates what is unfolded in chapter 2, a message to Gentile converts: in Christ, the elect nation of the Jews and the ones for whom they were elected, the rest of the nations, have been joined in covenant unity. This is the Good News: we who were lost in the self-justifying ideologies and willfulness of worldly existence are being invited into the circle of divine favor. Indeed, this was the plan all along:
“Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace; in His flesh (sarx) He has made the two into one and has broken down the middle wall of partition, that is, the hostility between us” (Eph 2:11-14).
In His flesh, the two have become one. It is a marital mystery, this universal solidarity.
The Magi come, the nations begin their long pilgrimage into Israel, and on this feast we see that God the Father has been working one thing and one thing only through all the labors of evolution and all the terrors of history: the reconciliation of hostile forces in a Eucharistic consummation. The Father’s plan is simply the realization of love in the flesh.
Life as love. The essence of Christmas.
This is why the liturgy features the First Epistle of Saint John so prominently as first Mass readings during Christmastide, for emphasizing the mystery of living love in the flesh is precisely the Johannine remit.
I just want to note a few passages from the First John readings of the last three days as guidelines for living a Christmas existence.
First, wrath and envy destroy love. They are the essential spirit of the anti-Christ: “This is the message you have heard from the beginning (ap’ archēs), that we love one another. We must not be like Cain, who was from the Evil One and slaughtered his brother. Why did he slaughter him? Because his own works were evil, and those of his brother, just. Do not marvel, brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another” (3:11-14).
We must be clear: these are the darkest sins of the flesh, the very darkest. If we indulge in wrath towards anyone (as opposed to righteous anger on behalf of the powerless), we thereby show ourselves outside the Christian communion. If one is a husband who emotionally brutalizes (or, my God, physically hurts) his wife, one belongs to the Evil One. If one holds grudges and refuses forgiveness, one is anti-Christ. If one is a pharisee, mercilessly judging others, convinced of one’s own righteousness, one does the work of the Adversary, who seeks to undo the universal justification Christ works on the Cross. For Jesus comes to do one thing and one thing only: to break down the middle wall of partition, to realize the ministry of reconciliation in the flesh. To make the two, one.
Second, to be a Christian requires having a bleeding heart: “Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” And this is how Saint John chooses to identify the Son of God: “This is the One Who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ” (5:5-6).
I have argued elsewhere that Saint John is drawing from his eyewitness experience of the piercing of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, from which flows forth the blood and water of new life. If we are to be victors (a consistent Johannine theme) over the world, that is, if we are to live by faith and by divine love, we must recognize the pierced Heart of Jesus as the pierced Heart of God Himself. The only real life is the unworldly life of the bleeding heart.
Third, true religion means recognizing that there is an apocalyptic either/or between a life of love and trust in the Father, on the one hand, and self-justification and retaining control over one’s life, on the other. “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the power of the Evil One. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the True One, and we are in the True One, in His Son, Jesus Christ. This One is the True God and Eternal Life” (5:19-20).
Everything outside of love of our neighbor and trust in the True Father is darkness. So, Saint John concludes his letter: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
On this great feast of the Epiphany, we see the glory of the Father’s love on the face of His Son. Jesus looks with infinite tenderness on each of us. If we allow Him to draw our gaze up to His, we will see that all the images of a life in which we are in control are lifeless idols.
There is one truth thing: love. Fall in love, and see what glory, what glory streams all around!