We are still celebrating Christmas and drawing out the implications of the birth of Christ.
His birth was met with faith or unbelief. In the scriptures, there were two groups of people reacting to the birth of Christ, the Infant King of the Jews. Those without faith saw Him as a threat and wanted to get rid of Him. He was considered a nuisance and perhaps a possible source of instability to the nation. But the humble people saw in Him the king of kings. With faith, they recognized in the baby Jesus someone that was from God and to be worshipped as King and Lord.
In the gospel, we have sincere Jews seeking to see God and the Messiah. We have John the Baptist who was waiting for the Messiah to come. When He came, John the Baptist recognized Him immediately for who He was, the Lamb of God. He asked his disciple to follow Him. We too want to see God like the early disciples of our Lord, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael. But how can we see God?
The answer of Jesus is “come and see.” (Jn 1:38) This was the same reply that Philip also gave to Nathanael when he told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, the one about whom the Prophets wrote: he is Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” When Nathanael asked, “’Can anything good come from that place?’ ‘Come and see,’ replied Philip.” To come and see means to stay with Jesus, to observe how He lived His life, what He thought and How He related with His Father and others. To come and see is to learn from Him how He lived and loved. This is what St John meant when he wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 Jn 1:1) Seeing Jesus presupposes that we are ready to have fellowship with Him.
Secondly, to see the Lord, we need to have a clear conscience. This is the reason why Nathaniel could recognize the Lord. He was a man incapable of deceit, a man of integrity. Jesus said of him, “There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.” When Nathanael said, “How do you know me?”, Jesus said, “Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.” In other words, not only was he a man of sincerity but a man of prayer and contemplation. Hence, Nathanael answered, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.’” Only love enables us to see God in man and man in God. We need to contemplate on His face, His life, passion and death if we are to share in His birth and life so that His coming would not be in vain.
This is true of John the Baptist and the rest of the holy people as well. John the Baptist said, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (Jn 1:32-34) Simeon and Anna in the Temple of Jerusalem too were upright, devout and praying people. (cf Lk 2:25-38) Simeon, on beholding the child Jesus said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Lk 2:29-32)
In the gospel, Jesus taught in His “Sermon on the Mount” that only the pure of heart shall see God. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt 5:6-8) For those who are pure of heart, they can see much more than those with evil hearts. Hence, He told Nathanael, “You believe that just because I said: ‘I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.’ And then he added, ‘I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open, and above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’”
So those who are evil in their hearts cannot see God. St John wrote, “This is the message as you have heard it from the beginning: that we are to love one another; not to be like Cain, who belong to the Evil One and cut his brother’s throat; cut his brother’s throat simply for this reason, that his own life was evil and his brother lived a good life.” When we are dead in sin, we cannot see the goodness and love of God. St John wrote, “If you refuse to love, you must remain dead; to hate your brother is to be a murderer, and murderers, as you know, do not have eternal life in them.” St Paul wrote to the Romans, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom 8:5-8) He also wrote, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Cor 2:14)
Fear and guilt will also prevent people from seeing God. If we live in fear and in guilt, it is because our conscience is not clear and we are not free from sin and selfishness. If we fear death and judgment, it is because we know that we are not worthy to come before the God of love and face the community of love in heaven. Of course, it is not God who will judge us, nor the saints in heaven, but as St John tells us, we will be condemned by our own conscience. For this reason, he said, “If we cannot be condemned by our own conscience, we need not be afraid in God’s presence.” In another place, St John says that only those who are in darkness need fear the light.
Thirdly, to see God, we must love our neighbours the way God loves us in Jesus. “This has taught us to love – that he gave up his life for us: and we, too, ought to give up our lives for our brothers.” We must live like our Lord in love and service, emptying our lives like Him. Jesus, in no uncertain terms, is identified with our fellowmen. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40) This is reiterated by St John when he wrote, “If a man who was rich enough in this world’s goods saw that one of his brothers was in need, but closed his heart to him, how could the love of God be living in him? My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active; only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth.” In the incarnation, God has assumed our humanity. He is one with us and one of us. Scriptures says, “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (Heb 2:11)
When we love our brothers and sisters, then we will have a clear conscience before God and man. St John said we can be certain that “we are children of the truth and be able to quieten our conscience in his presence, whatever accusations it may raise against us, because God is greater than our conscience and he knows everything.” Why, then, do we still live in guilt and fear, especially when we feel that we have loved our fellow human beings? The truth is simply because that love is not pure. Only when we love purely and selflessly, can fear be removed from our hearts. In other words, as St John says, only when we live as children of the truth, even in love, will we then be able to quieten our conscience in His presence. Thus, if our conscience is disturbed, then we can suspect that the good spirit is unsettling us in order that we purify our love for others. What then is pure love? St John says that pure love requires that we give up our lives for others just as Jesus gave up His life for us.
How then we can overcome our inadequacy in love? The scripture readings of today teach us that fear can only be overcome by love, both for God and for our fellow human beings. One who loves has overcome all fear. Because if we love, then we know that the love of God is living in us. So where there is love, we will not fear God nor men, even, as St John remarked, when the world hates us. St John said, “You must not be surprised, brothers, when the world hates you; we have passed out of death and into life and of this we can be sure because we love our brothers.” Consequently, today the gospel invites us to follow Jesus just as Philip, Andrew, Peter and Nathanael did. Only by following Him, in His life and in His death, can we find ourselves comfortable to be in God’s presence and His saints because we will recognize ourselves to be one of them. Otherwise, our conscience will condemn us to isolation, guilt and self-hatred because we know that we have not loved.