God's salvation is announced to the world.
A prayer of praise for God's salvation.
God now speaks to us through his Son.
John 1:1-18 (or shorter form, John 1:1-5, 9-14)
John announces that in Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Background on the Gospel Reading
There are four Masses that are celebrated for the Feast of Christmas and each is given its own set of readings to help us contemplate Christ’s birth. The Gospel for the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve is taken from the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. The Mass at midnight proclaims the birth of Jesus through the Gospel of Luke. The Mass at dawn on Christmas morning continues the story of the birth of Jesus as found in Luke’s Gospel, ending with the shepherds’ visit to the infant Jesus. In each of these Gospel readings, we hear portions of the infancy narratives with which we are familiar.
The Gospel for the Christmas Mass during the day is taken from the beginning of John’s Gospel, but this part of John’s Gospel is not an infancy narrative like those found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Instead, John’s Gospel starts at the very beginning and presents the Creation story as the framework for announcing the Incarnation. John’s opening words echo the first verse in the Book of Genesis. This framework invites us to view Jesus’ birth from God’s perspective. Each of the Gospels makes clear that Jesus’ birth was the result of God’s initiative. John’s Gospel, however, emphasizes that Jesus’ birth was the divine intention from the moment of Creation.
As we observe in today’s reading, the Gospel of John includes highly philosophical and theological language. One example that particularly stands out in this Gospel is John’s repeated references to “the Word” in the opening verse. This expression (logos in the Greek) borrows from a concept found in both Jewish and Greek thought. Jews used this phrase to describe God’s action in the Creation story, for example, and in the Wisdom literature. In Greek thought, the logos was understood as an intermediary between God and humanity. John and others in the early Church adopted this language to describe God’s incarnation in Jesus. As the term was used to express the Trinitarian faith of Christians, the Word came to be equated with the Second Person of the Trinity.
In this prologue to the Gospel of John, we also hear the main themes that will be developed in his Gospel. These are often presented as dualities: light and dark, truth and falsehood, life and death, and belief and unbelief. We also hear in this prologue a unique aspect of John’s Gospel, the theme of testimony. John the Baptist was sent by God to testify to Jesus, the light. Others in this Gospel will also offer testimony about Jesus. The reader is invited to accept this testimony, which bears witnesses to Jesus, the Son of God. But even more directly, Jesus’ action and words will testify to Jesus’ identity as God’s Incarnate Word.
Thinking about Jesus’ birth in these theological and cosmological terms is particularly appropriate as we celebrate the Feast of Christmas in the darkness of winter. At this time, nature itself seems to remind us of the darkness of sin. Into this darkness, in the midst of our sinfulness, God comes to dwell among us. John’s Gospel reminds us that through the Incarnation, God saves us from the darkness of sin and makes us his children.