Just a few days ago, in the northern hemisphere, we observed the winter solstice. It is the longest night and the shortest day. In some ways it is symbolic of the events of this past year, as if the world is entering into a long night. We remember the rise of the Islamic State and the unprecedented violence against Christians there. We remember the civil war in Ukraine and the tensions between Russia and the western nations. We remember the civil unrest in Ferguson, in New York City, and other places in our nation.
We remember the outbreak of Ebola in several West African nations. We remember the rise of Boku Haram across North Africa and the violent attacks on people in that region. We remember the radical Moslem attack on the school children in Pakistan. These and so many other events have shaken us all. We can add to this global litany of woes the many personal stories of suffering from this past year. It seems like a long night of trouble has come upon the world – a kind of a spiritual winter solstice.
While these things aren’t necessarily new – humankind has suffered violence, persecutions, wars, famines, plagues, and other disasters since the beginning of time – it does seem that right now all is reaching a particular intensity. It is as if darkness is coming upon the earth. This is important for us to recognize and name. In so many ways, this spiritual winter solstice is the result of sin. It isn’t new, but is a particular sign of our times.
In this time of gathering darkness it is right and good that we come to church to pray. We proclaim together that our God, who sees all, and who knows the full measure that the darkness of sin can bring, has had great mercy on us. Isaiah the prophet foretold it, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” St. Paul proclaimed it, as we read from his letter to Titus, “beloved, when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deed we had done but because of his mercy,” The light of God’s mercy is shining on us. We say boldly with the prophetrs, “For a child is born to us, a son given us; They name him wonder-counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
Now, more than ever, it is important for us to remember the love and mercy of God, who comes to save us.
Remember the story of how the angel Gabriel came to Mary? We read this in the gospel of Luke.This is the mystery of the incarnation, God made flesh. Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit. But God saw fit that this occurred before her marriage to Joseph. This ensured that we would all know that Jesus has a divine and human origin. And this was a huge risk for Mary. To say yes to God’s plan was to face the possibility of danger and disgrace. But Mary trusted in God. She said “yes” to God’s will. And so it was that Jesus, Emmanuel came to be with her. God became so very small, entering into the womb of the virgin. God identified with the smallest of human beings, the unborn child. God became a sign of the life and dignity of even the smallest and most helpless of human beings. God loves us, and has mercy on us. Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.
Remember the story of how Joseph, the fiancé of Mary, learned of all this? We read this in the gospel of Matthew. Joseph’s first reaction was a plan to divorce Mary quietly so as not to expose her to shame. Imagine the emotional turmoil they were both in! It was through the intervention of an angel – visiting Joseph in a dream – that he changed his mind and took Mary into his home. Joseph trusted God. And so Emmanuel, Jesus, God with us, came to be with the holy family. And so it is that God identifies with our families, warts and all. God comes to heal our families, to reconcile us, and to unite us with our heavenly family. God loves us, and has mercy on us. Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.
Remember the story of how Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem. This is where we go back to the gospel of Luke. Mary was in her 9th month of pregnancy when they had to journey to Bethlehem. Imagine – Mary in her 9th month riding on a donkey! And then as they arrived in Bethlehem she went into labor. There was no room in the Inn for them. They found themselves basically homeless and had to take shelter in a stable. But Joseph and Mary trusted God. Because of that trust Jesus, our Emmanuel, was born to us. God himself identified with the poor and with the homeless. And so God became a sign of the life and dignity of each and every human person, no matter our situation. God lifts up the lowly. God loves us and has mercy on us. Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.
It is in these stories of the birth of Jesus that God’s love for us shines so brightly. Jesus was born in a town called Bethlehem. The name of the town means, “house of bread.” Tonight we celebrate Jesus as the bread that came down from heaven. Jesus was laid in a manger - a feeding trough. Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven. And whoever eats this bread will have eternal life.”
At this Mass we proclaim Jesus as the Word made flesh. And so we have proclaimed the Word of God at this Mass. At this Mass we proclaim Jesus as the bread of life. And so we receive Jesus in the most holy Eucharist. May Jesus bring us all into a saving and sacramental relationship with Him and with His Church. Jesus overcomes the spiritual darkness of this world. As the gospel of John says, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Christmas lights up a spiritual path of hope for us all during times of darkness. May we all hold firmly to a saving faith in Jesus, who is forever the light of the world. May the light of Jesus shine through us as a beacon of hope to the world. The darkness shall not overcome. This is the great hope of Mary and Joseph. This is the joy of the shepherds. This is the salvation of the human race. This is why the angels sang with joy on the night of our Savior’s birth. And this is why we sing too.
Gloria in excelsis Deo. Gloria in excelsis Deo
A most blessed and joyful Christmas to all.