In our days, as a creation of the media, more people have a passing acquaintance with the Gnostic gospels like those attributed to Judas or Mary Magdalene. I call this a passing acquaintance, because most people usually know little more than the title of these so-called gospels. Few of them have bothered to read these.
These two Gnostic gospels share a few features. They are both anti-gospels in a sense, because the Incarnation of Christ is always a bad thing. The body is something to be overcome. For Mary Magdalene, in the gospel which bears her name, her womanhood is something which limits her. She must become something which is not man and not woman in order to be saved. In other words, her bodiliness is holding her back.
In the gospel named after Judas, Christ’s humanity is a prison, which Judas must free him from, even at the cost of betrayal. Here again it is humanity which is despised and rejected. Both of these so-called gospels share another feature in that Judas and Mary Magdalene become recipients of secret knowledge. And what is that knowledge? Basically that the body is evil and that it is a prison.
Few things could be further from Christianity than such ideas. The culmination of such silliness is in a product like the Da Vinci Code, which purports to reveal a great secret. Now, what, you might ask, could be this great secret which will change the whole world? There are all sorts of things one could imagine. But how many of you would have imagined the so-called secret to be a royal bloodline. That’s right. Because, apparently, what the world really needs is yet another royal family.
In the Gospel, the real gospel that is, the one from Jesus Christ, there is a secret. Jesus says, ‘I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.’ But the secret is something no one could have guessed because it is about God himself.
Jesus reveals that what He is in relation to the Father is Gift. ‘All things have been delivered to me by my Father’. The Son is the Beauty of the Father, God’s perfect grasp of himself. What the Son is by nature, he makes us by grace. We also are made in the image of our Creator, made like Him by grace. Made to be gifts in the Supreme Gift.
And that is why Jesus begins these words, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is God’s own Joy at being God, God rejoicing in love. To reveal this to us, to draw us to Himself, God the Son, the eternal Word who is the Image of the Father, took what is ours and became one of us, a man like us in all things but sin.
To us human beings, God comes as a human being. He saves us in a way apt for us. And so Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!’ And what is that? St John writes,
‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.’
That is the great secret: that God desires to give us his own self, his own life, coming to us in a way we can receive him – in the flesh itself. It is for this mystery that we prepare ourselves in Advent, until Christ comes in glory.