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Commentary: "Song of Mystery"

For the last few weeks, I have shared about the first songs of Christmas from the Bible: the songs of Mary, the angels, and Simeon. Christmastime and music have always been linked, and people who do not normally sing will at least try during the season that has just passed. But now, at the beginning of a New Year, I would like to go back to the very beginning. It is not, strictly speaking, a song; yet the Interpreter's Bible states, "The whole thing has the effect more of a piece of lofty music than of literature."

It is the opening chapter of John's Gospel. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). These majestic words may not have seemed as mysterious to those of the first century AD as they do to us. Devout Jews were probably reminded that God created through the spoken word (Genesis 1:1-27). Philosophical Greeks held to the belief that the "logos" was the Word or Reason of God, the instrument through which God made the world.

But the Gospel of John captured the thinking of both Jew and Greek, and then carried it one step further: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). For a relatively short time (which is to say for 33 years), the Eternal Word became a human being and walked in our midst. That is what the Incarnation, which means "put into flesh," is all about: God was put into flesh, not only to communicate with humanity but to identify the Creator with his creation.

God chose to become flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth. This is not to minimize the Nativity and the Epiphany but, rather, to recall that the babe became a man; he walked our roads, visited our villages, shopped in our marketplaces, toiled in our workplaces, and ate at our tables. Christmas began in the heart of God and, in the words of Christina Rossetti, "Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine; Love was born at Christmas; Star and angels gave the sign."

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