Up until the twentieth century there were two great mysteries of human existence: life and death. The twentieth century saw the advent of a third great mystery: computers.
Now while I can't claim to be a great expert on the mysteries of life or death, I do actually know a thing or two about computers. But don't tell anybody I said that, because when people think you're a 'computer whiz', as they say, you are never left alone. This is one of the crosses I have to bear even in religious life. I dread the words that not infrequently come from one or other my Dominican confrères: 'My brother, I'm having some trouble with my computer: can you tell me what I'm supposed to do?'
In my experience, the correct answer to the question is usually: 'Yes, I can tell you what you're supposed to do, but you probably wouldn't understand a word of what I was saying, and in any case, you'd have forgotten it by the time you get back to your computer.'
Of course, I shouldn't actually say anything like that to my brother. What I should do is take a deep breath, mutter a prayer for the virtue of patience, and say, 'Let me show you.' And I sit down with the brother in front of the computer and show him how to do what he wants.
As I said, up until the twentieth century, the human race seemed to manage without this great mystery of computers. The great mysteries of life and death were sufficient to keep our minds occupied. Today I don't want to talk about the mystery of death: we'll leave that one for Easter. Instead, today I want to talk about the mystery of life.
Just as a new computer, or video games console, comes with instructions from the manufacturer, so our life comes with instructions from the one who created us. Some of those instructions we see in the world around us; some of them are pre-programmed, if you like, into human nature. But, just as some of us might try to set up a computer without reading the instructions, so too, all too often we try to run our lives without taking account of God's instructions. We don't read the 'Word of God' that 'was in the beginning with God'. And so we are especially good at messing things up. Through the ages we have recognised that we mess up our lives, we have recognised that we don't understand our purpose.
Men and women have always prayed, 'My God, I'm having some trouble with my life: can you tell me what I'm supposed to do?' And so, in steps God's technical support department: 'At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets.'
Yes, Moses and the prophets have told us what we are supposed to do, but we're not so good at understanding the words they are saying, and, in any case, even when we do understand them, we tend to 'forget' to put it into practice.
And so our prayer goes back to God once more, 'We're still having some trouble with our lives down here: can you tell us what we're supposed to do?' At this, God, who is infinitely patient, takes a cosmic deep breath and says, 'Let me show you.' And God comes down, sits beside us, as it were, and shows us how to live our lives. 'In our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son... he is the radiant light of God's glory and the perfect copy of his nature.'
This is what Christmas is about: God saying, 'Let me show you.'
God shows himself to us in the way we can relate to most clearly. The Word, God the Son, through whom all creation was made, and through whom we receive the gift of life, becomes a human being, becomes one of us. At Christmas, God says, 'Let me show you myself'.
God shows us, in Christ, his love for us and his mercy for us. He humbles himself to become a man, born of Mary, in order to save us from our sins. At Christmas, God says, 'Let me show you how much I love you.'
And God shows us in Christ what men and women should be like. 'To all who accept the Word, he gave power to become children of God', says St John in today's Gospel. We, if we accept Christ, the Son of God, are given the power to be like him, to be adopted as sons and daughters of God. The life of Jesus Christ is a model of how to love and how to live. At Christmas, God says, 'Let me show you how to live.' Indeed, 'Let me show you what it means to live life to the full.'
Even with Jesus as our guide, it takes a lifetime to learn how to live. There are lessons to be learned every day as we grow in God's love. But today we give thanks to God for the gift of his Son, and pray that, throughout the coming year, we may be attentive to all that he has shown us.