Today we take it for granted that words should be produced and reproduced electronically, as in this blog. Young people, I’m told, go to electronic sources for news, for research, for conversation. For four hundred years, words were mostly reproduced mechanically, by printing press. Before that, for many centuries, they were reproduced manually. Before that, they had to be repeated only orally, from one storyteller to another.
From all eternity, God spoke to himself. His eternal Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary nine months before being born in Bethlehem. We use many words to express our scattered thoughts; God speaks only One. God speaks to himself first of all, then to the world he creates out of nothing, then to his human creatures, when the Word became flesh. The Christmas Gospel, the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John, echoes and completes the book of Genesis, the first book of the bible: “In the beginning was the Word.”
The pagan gods of ages past, the statues of Zeus and Minerva, were mute; they were speechless and inert idols. The gods that some people seem to worship today—automobiles, houses, mechanical and electronic equipment—are lifeless and mute, even when some of them reproduce human speech. The true God speaks. At Christmas we rejoice in his Word made our flesh, because our nature is taken up into the mystery of who God is. The letter to the Hebrews, also from the Christmas Day Mass, sums it up: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son, through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.”
When God speaks, what comes to be? The message at Christmas is peace, because unity and reconciliation are at the heart of who God is. God is love, and the peace of Christ is a peace born of love. It contrasts with the Pax Romana that prevailed when Jesus was born. The Romans conquered the world and built universal peace through oppression of other peoples. Jesus’ peace is different.
The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council this year is conducting hearings and discussions about peace among Catholics in deanery meetings and parish councils. The first round considered peace in families and the prevention of domestic violence. The second round, going on now, is considering peace in our neighborhoods, including the problem of gang violence on the streets and in the public schools. The third round will discuss peace in our society and the way conflict is built into media reports, as well as the use of electronic networks to stir up animosities and foster hatred. From these discussions, some initiatives and programs for the parishes might be developed; but the conversations are important in themselves. They provide a safe forum to talk about many personal experiences as well as to discuss the stories told in the media. The Church has to speak to herself to come to a better understanding of what Christ calls us to do in places marked by violence.
Jesus’ birth brought God’s peace to earth in visible form; but his birth also intensified conflict. Listen to St. John again: “He was in the world, and the world came to be though him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” Jesus is God’s light, but the darkness struggles still not to be overcome. Our lives are frequently embattled; life and death continue to be joined. There is war in Asia and Africa and violence at home. Life and death struggle in the bodies of those who fight chronic illness or who are troubled in spirit. Hope wears thin when people are without work or when families dissolve and friends disappear.
Yet God speaks, and so do we. Do we also listen, to God and to one another? Listening is an art, a habit acquired with practice. A good listener hears the unexpected, seeks out those whom he or she might not ordinarily have the chance to hear, especially the poor. Theirs is often the voice of God. If we listen and join them in conversation and prayer, we can ourselves, like the Christmas angels, be bearers of Christ’s peace.