Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
What came to be through him was life and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. These words from this morning’s Gospel constitute one perspective on what we celebrate today. I would even say that it is one aspect of all three readings for this morning’s mass, readings that unpack the familiar narratives of the Lord’s birth.
Perhaps our familiarity with these narratives leaves us insensitive to their content; or perhaps we have digested that story into our comfort zone, leveling it to a pretty tableau. I’m not trying to play Scrooge; I’m just trying to focus my attention on the Gospel stories where the light of God shines, unconquered, in the darkness of our sin and ignorance.
Think about it. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ birth and the homage of the Magi are embedded in a tale of Herod’s malice and the massacre of the Innocents and the flight of the Holy Family as misplaced persons into Egypt. In St. Luke’s Gospel, Joseph and Mary, a family with priestly and royal pretensions, are reduced to sheltering in a stable where Mary–still Joseph’s betrothed and not yet married–gives birth to her First-born. They are not visited by Magi who converse with kings but by shepherds, the unclean out-casts of their society. And this birth leads to that disturbing presentation in the Temple where the helpless infant is identified with the rise and fall of many; and the heart of his mother is seen as pierced to reveal the thoughts of many. This is not a picturesque story. This is our own story and it is a story about our own times. This story, however, also describes hope, describes the paradoxes of God’s work and the fulfillment of God’s promises. A virgin is not sterile but fruitful; voiceless shepherds are given a voice and announce the Good News; the Child of promise is born and survives, against all odds. This is the struggle of light and shadow, life and death, grace and sin.
The good news is that sin and ignorance cannot have the final say. No, the Word of God is the first and the last word on our existence; but that same Word is a light in the darkness and there is necessarily a show-down. Unlike any story I might write, that light surrenders to the power of darkness as the only way to surely shine. Light or Word are, after all, manifestations of energy whereas darkness and silence have no energy. The power of darkness, here, is literally not the last word since it is speechless! It is only potentiality and to consciously surrender to its “power” is the most intimate way to tap its potential.
This morning we celebrate the emergence of that Light, that Word in an existence we can comprehend–as living flesh and blood like ourselves. We celebrate the start of that contention with shadow, with evil, with ignorance played out on a human scale. Played out, as it is in history, that same Word invites us to assume the struggle as our own, empowered by the Light and the Word of God. Jesus, that very Word and Light will say in John’s Gospel, I am the way, the truth and the life–that is our way and truth and life. And also, referring to his own wondrous deeds, greater things than this you will do.
That is what we are celebrating today and that is why today is our celebration and not just a birthday memorial. It is well worth celebrating because we can, we must take up the challenge if that Light is still to shine in the darkness because it is now our Light and our Word. Now we know that it comes from within us because we were created through this Light, this Life, this Word! It is only our evil–the evil of our society, of our experience, of our individual choices and our collective choices or our failure to make a choice–it is only our evil that would make the living Word of God seem alien to us, outside of us. What Good News, indeed, that it is not so! In this Word we do have a voice. In this Light, we can see our way through the darkness.