December is a special month. From the very first day, twinkling lights and festive decorations begin appearing around homes and shopping centers. Candles light up windows. Evergreen trees appear in homes and office buildings. Warm and friendly greeting cards start circulating in the mail. And people begin buying special gifts for loved ones and wrapping them in festive paper.
In our churches, we see changes as well. A special wreath with purple and rose-colored candles appears near the altar. The priest begins wearing purple vestments. And the familiar hymn announcing “Glory to God in the highest” is silenced. Advent has arrived, and our anticipation grows as Christmas draws near.
That’s how Advent begins, but as Christmas Day draws near, our focus changes. Our attention moves from a season focused on preparation to the very day we have been waiting for. Maybe we think more about what it will be like to have a family gathering and enjoy a special meal together. We may take some time to count our blessings and look forward to Christmas dinner as an opportunity to celebrate and give thanks.
But there’s one more blessing we can experience as we prepare for Christmas. Above all the other joys of the holiday, we can taste the joy of knowing that God has entered our world in order to lift us up to heaven.
To help us experience this Christmas joy, we want to focus on the core miracle of the season: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory” (John 1:14). We will look at who Jesus is as the eternal “Word of God.” We’ll explore the amazing truth that he “became flesh and dwelt among us.” And we will think about how Jesus wants to reveal himself to us so that we can all say, “We have seen his glory.”
Logos, the “Word.” We may think it strange of St. John to call Jesus the “Word of God”—Logos in Greek—but this was a rich term filled with meaning for most of John’s first readers, Jews and Gentiles alike. Many rabbis of John’s day used the word logos when they talked about the wisdom and revelation of God to his people. For them, the logos of God, the word that came down from heaven, was the Ten Commandments and the whole Mosaic law. It was divine wisdom that encapsulated God’s plan to bless Israel above all the other nations and to establish his people as a light to the Gentiles around them.
In many Gentile religions, the logos was like a demigod, a bridge between the supreme cosmic god and the world with all of it inhabitants. According to these religions, God was too far removed from the world for anyone ever to know him. It was the role of the demigods to help ordinary humans come closer to God’s heavens and experience just a touch of God’s power.
John may have used a term that was familiar to Jews and Gentiles, but he went far beyond their understanding of what that term means. Jesus was more than the wisdom of God hidden in human shape. He was more than a mediating bridge between God and humanity. He is the Word of God made flesh. He is God, fully human and fully divine. He is the wisdom of God because he is God’s only Son. And he is the mediator between heaven and earth because in him, heaven itself has come down to earth.
Just as John wanted to lift his readers up with the truth about who Jesus is, God wants to lift us up as well. John’s teaching about the Word of God tells us that the purity, wonder, and perfection of heaven—everything that the Son of God knew before he became a man—is now available to everyone who believes. Because Jesus came to us, full of grace and truth, heaven is in our grasp. Simply by reaching out to Jesus in faith and trust, we can touch heaven.
Too often, we allow our vision to be limited by what we can see in this world. We define our lives according to our everyday responsibilities, challenges, and problems rather than lifting our eyes to heaven. Of course, we must pay attention to our duties and deal with our challenges. But if we restrict ourselves only to the earthly dimension of life, we risk being contented or anguished by the way events play out in the world. John is inviting us to look beyond this world so that we can find in Jesus a true and lasting foundation for our lives, a foundation that will keep us stable no matter what situation we find ourselves in.
Lift Up Your Eyes! We shouldn’t think that concepts like heaven, eternity, and divine wisdom are too deep for us to ponder. The seasons of Advent and Christmas tell us that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, was made flesh to give us the answers we crave. It’s the primary mission of the Holy Spirit to unfold for us all of the things that Jesus taught when he walked the earth (John 14:26). It’s his mission to help us see our lives, this world, and heaven itself in a new and exciting way.
Jesus is the living Word of God. This is what we are celebrating this season. The whole season of Advent is a time for us to lift our eyes to heaven so that the Spirit can give us a new vision for our lives. It’s a time for the Spirit to show us the heavenly Jerusalem, our true home, and to show us that we have a Father in heaven who wants to give us a new life. It’s a time when the Spirit wants to shower us with heavenly gifts of love, mercy, and grace so that we can live this new life he is offering us.
But just how do we lift our eyes to heaven? It seems so complex and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be this way. All it takes are simple acts of prayer. St. Therese of Lisieux once called prayer “a simple look turned toward heaven” and “a cry of recognition and of love.” Prayer like this is not very demanding. It doesn’t take mountains of faith. It’s not meant only for the holiest of saints.
Take My Heart, Lord! We can begin simply by saying, “Jesus, I give you the first affections of my heart.” When you begin your day, tell Jesus, “I give you the first affections of my heart.” When you come to Mass on Sundays, tell him, “I give you the first affections of my heart.” Say it again when the host is lifted up and after you receive Communion. When you take time out of your day to quiet your mind, you can say, “Jesus, I give you the first affections of my heart.” And before you go to bed, you can say it one more time: “Jesus, I give you the first affections of my heart.”
Nothing moves the Lord more than saying these simple words of prayer. Every time you say them, he will return the favor by pouring his grace into your heart and giving you more of his peace. Giving yourself to the Lord this way will give you a deeper sense of his presence and help you become more and more assured of his love.
Ambassadors to the World. John wrote that in Jesus “was life, and this life was the light of the human race.” John told us too that this light “shines in the darkness” (John 1:4, 5). This light has the power to sanctify us and change us into the image of God. In a world longing for love and compassion, we can become Jesus’ ambassadors, shining his light into the darkness. Through our prayers and the witness of our love, we can help people find the Lord. We can help them find the peace of Christ, a peace that remains constant in the face of life’s ups and downs.
This month, thousands of people will be reading this special edition of The Word Among Us. Imagine what could happen if all of us reading these words were to fix our eyes on Jesus in prayer. Imagine the blessings and the grace that would be released if we all were to pray, “Jesus, I give you the first affections of my heart.” The Holy Spirit would multiply our prayer by thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times, and his grace would flow out of us and wash over the people we pray for and care for. Imagine all the people who could be touched by the Word of God who has become flesh for us—all because we have lifted our eyes to him and given him our hearts!