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Second Sunday of Christmas

A Dwelling in Jacob

We sometimes forget in Advent and Christmastide that we celebrated the feast of the Incarnation over nine months ago when we kept the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March. As with every other human child, Jesus' human life began at the moment of conception. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and from the human soul infused by God and the flesh taken from the Blessed Virgin the divine--human child, Jesus Christ of Nazareth was formed in her womb.

Today's Gospel reading reminds us of this:

The Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.

The first place where the Word dwelt was of course the womb of Mary, the mother of God, Ark of the Covenant, House of David, Tower of Ivory and House of Gold. Alaisdair Gray, a modern Scottish novelist, imagines the Christ-child's expression in the womb thus:

The incarnate God's expression...The huge little head nodding over the bent up knees, the great closed eyes and subtly smiling mouth seemed dreaming of a satisfying secret as big as the universe. (Lanark)

It is this extraordinary truth that we are asked to contemplate especially in this Christmastide.

Again the Gospel teaches us that Christ was made incarnate 'full of grace and truth'. This child in the womb has the fullness of grace because of the perfect union he has with God. So, as St Thomas says, in one way he was full of grace insofar as he did not receive any special gratuitous gift from God, but that he should be God himself. Christ did not possess the fullness of Truth, but is Truth himself.

This brings us to the first reading where the Wisdom of God declares that she has received the command from God:

The Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and the one who begot me assigned a place for my tent. And he said, 'Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.'

Here eternal Wisdom dwells with God's people, pitches her tent there, and this prophecy is fulfilled when the Word, who is Eternal Wisdom, takes on our human nature to raise us up to share God's life. It complements the many Old Testament prophecies that God would one day dwell bodily with his people.

The prophet Baruch explicitly links the idea of wisdom, sophia, with the coming incarnation. After asking who can go up to heaven to bring Wisdom down, he concludes that only God is true Wisdom:

This is our God, and there shall no other be accounted of in comparison to him. He found out all the way of knowledge and gave it to Jacob his servant and to Israel his beloved. Afterwards, he was seen upon earth and conversed with men. (Bar 3:36-38).

So certain is Baruch of the prophetic word from God that he expresses a future event with a past tense!

This interplay of past and present, time and eternity, is woven into the very structure of our Gospel reading. The text moves vertiginously between the eternal now of God where the Word is and dwells, to his heralding by John in time, to the instant of his incarnation in Mary's womb, and back again; sweeping us up with it back to eternity, to the very bosom of the Father. We survey the whole sweep of salvation history.

It also reminds that the purpose of the Incarnation was to reveal God's love for us, as Pope Pius XII put it in Mystici Corporis:

But the most loving knowledge with which the divine Redeemer has pursued us from the first moment of his incarnation completely exceeds all the searchings of the human mind, for by means of that blessed vision, which he enjoyed as soon as he was received into the womb of the Mother of God, he has forever and continuously had present to him all the members of his mystical Body, and embraced them with his saving loveĀ… In the manger, on the cross, in the eternal glory of the Father, Christ sees and embraces all the members of his Church, and he sees them far more clearly, embraces them far more lovingly, than does the a mother the child at her breast, and far better than a man knows and loves himself.

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