The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Light shines in the darkness

Today a light shines on us,
for the Lord is born for us.

He is called
Wondrous God,
Prince of Peace,
Father Forever,
and his reign
is without end.

Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011
The Nativity of the Lord

Isaiah 9:1-6
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14
Darkness blankets the earth. Night descends and we seek rest, security, and peace. The dawn promises hope, newness, and joy, but it is a long time coming. Sleep is elusive, fear and worry creep in, and loneliness torments. We toss and turn throughout the long night.

Under the cover of night, we are haunted by the demons of war, oppression, violence, injustice, poverty, racism, disparity, corruption, crime, abuse, lust, greed, selfishness, jealousy, anger, conflict, hostility, isolation, guilt, shame, despair, depression, exhaustion, addiction, illness, pain, grief, sorrow, and death. All the result of the sin of pride inherited from our first parents, humanity’s choice to spurn the God of all and “be like gods” ourselves (cf. Genesis 3:5).

It is a dark, dark world—like Pottersville in Frank Capra’s 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life. Except that Pottersville didn’t exist. It would have existed if it had not been for one man, George Bailey, famously portrayed by Jimmy Stewart. His goodness, his light, kept the evil darkness of Mr. Potter at bay. His light provided hope for the good people of Bedford Falls. And when the darkness threatened to overtake even poor, desperate George Bailey, something small and wonderful happened:

God stepped in.

So it is with us. While “It’s a Wonderful Life” provides an apt metaphor for God’s presence in the world, the Incarnation we recall in the feast of Christmas surpasses all wonder. God became man. God entered the darkness—not to eradicate humanity’s woes, but to give them meaning and purpose within a fallen world grasping at straws. Christ is our hope in a world of darkness. His “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

The theme of light piercing the darkness is prevalent in all of today’s readings. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone,” prophesies Isaiah. “The grace of God has appeared,” writes St. Paul. “The glory of God shone around” the shepherds as the angel of the Lord announced the birth of Jesus. It is interesting to note that this light of God’s glory does not eliminate the dark night. Rather, it shines through it to provide hope and guidance. Christ, the Light of the World (cf. John 8:12), promises to lead us through the darkness, and—if we follow him unreservedly—to keep evil at bay, to even thwart it. As John the Baptist’s father Zechariah prophesies in the Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79) which we chant each morning at Lauds: “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Christmas reminds us to seek that light again, to follow it, to become that point of light along the dark and narrow path of life. Our rejoicing in the light that Christ provides should, like George Bailey, provide a beacon of hope for others on the same journey. We all must become the light that shines in the darkness. As Jesus told the disciples of his day and ours, “You are the salt of the earth” and the “light of the world. … Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father” (Matthew 5:13,14,16).

A Savior is born for us from God’s zeal, or passion, as Isaiah says (9:6). Interestingly, a few sentences after today’s Gospel passage ends, Luke tells us that the shepherds who had seen the light “went in haste” and found Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus lying in a manger (Luke 2:16). They were eager to find the source of the light, and after seeing Jesus, expressing the zeal of God’s love, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20).

The light shining in the darkness of that first Christmas night had transformed them, as it should with us today. St. Paul reminds us of this in the second reading when he says that the “grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age” as we await the final coming of Christ (Titus 2:11-12). This is our baptismal call as Christians.

The darkness shall not overcome us because God has stepped into it, has shown and given us the light, and because he leads us into the light for all eternity. As the Book of Revelation says:
God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain. … They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever (21:3-4; 22:4-5).

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