The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone forth. For the grace of God has appeared… To shepherds in the field watching their sheep, the angel of the Lord appeared…and the glory of the Lord shone around them…and suddenly a multitude of the heavenly hosts was praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest!
The holy Scriptures tell us that the night of our Savior’s birth was a night of shining light, a night of great glory. This was foretold by the prophet Isaiah: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. It was described by Luke the Evangelist: to shepherd in the field the glory of the Lord shone round about them. For on this night St. Paul proclaims, the grace of God has appeared, saving all.
All this was how God grew the attention of his earthly creatures. A light of great glory blazed and filled those who had lived in darkness.
It is not easy to negotiate the darkness. You who have come from your homes this night to worship with us know something of our countryside darkness. Our Christmas decorations help alleviate some of that gloom but they are only a dim glimmer of the blaze that suddenly swallowed the darkness in which the shepherds kept watch that blessed night.
Darkness is risky. Accidents can happen in the dark or worse. Never has this world known light to dispel the darkness of the night as in this past century of ours. Before our time, pitch dark was unavoidable. Now we take electricity for granted–until there’s a power outage and we experience anew what humanity suffered until the present.
But there is another darkness that is as prevalent today as it ever was: a darkness that is not physical, a spiritual blindness–our common human condition. This interior darkness is far worse than any physical blindness, frightful though that be! The physically blind can at least know they are sightless and exercise caution to find their way, How do I know if I’m spiritually blind?
On that first Christmas night when the Savior of the world was born, we are heartened by the message of holy Scripture that the hold of this, our darkness, has been broken. A longed for light has come from God and fills our lives. The Prophet foretold it; the Evangelist recorded it; the Apostle proclaimed it to the gentiles and so we acknowledge that our world had been sunk in spiritual darkness. In the fullness of time, the glory of the Lord has shone around us. The poor shepherds in the fields witness for all of us that God’s promise to his Chosen People is now accomplished for all of humanity. Our very nature is transfused by God’s life in the person of his incarnate Son. Everything is changed!
However, just because the Son of God has become human and dwelt among us, we don’t automatically have our own personal blindness healed. Jesus did heal the physical blindness of some people in Israel; but there were many more who weren’t cured. The few he healed were a message to each of us to seek the cure of our own spiritual blindness, to pray for the healing of the darkness within our hearts and minds. Our souls cry out for this healing. Do I hear the cry of my soul for God’s help?
This night of glory that blazed upon the world was seen only by a few shepherds. There is no record that the citizens of Bethlehem saw anything different that night! Only these few poor shepherds. This was God’s special gift to them, the poor in spirit.
If I would see the glory of God in my own life–not with my physical eyes but by spiritual awareness–I need that same poverty of spirit. The shepherds listened to the words of the angel and they were not tempted to lag behind for another glimpse of that vision of glory. No, they left the vision behind to seek out the source of heavenly glory and they looked upon an ordinary infant lying on a bed of straw. And that was the king of glory!
We come with the shepherds to adore him, he who is our Way, our Truth and our Life. What do we see? Do we see only the straw? Do we see heavenly light? Do we recognize the King of glory?
Decades later, this same Jesus would ask the blind beggar Bartimaeus, What do you want? Bartimaeus would say, Lord, I want to see! This Christmas, let us ask to see and may we recognize the King of glory among us.