After a good washing, our monastic robes can appear dazzlingly white and contrast dramatically with our black scapulars. However, on more than one occasion when I have been out in the snow, I have not failed to notice that our otherwise white robes appear to be a definite off-white, cream, color in comparison with the brilliant white of the snow. This is, perhaps, a useful analogy in understanding how God’s pure light has the effect of casting into stark relief our sinfulness and the still dark places of our hearts—even when we think we have made spiritual progress. Needless to say, this all-revealing light can be something painful and thus our natural desire is, perhaps, to flee from this light—like our first parents cowering among the trees in order to hide from the penetrating radiance of God’s face.
Now, although not hiding, the humble shepherds guarding their flocks by night are startled by the unexpected appearance of the Angel of the Lord and terrified by the glory of the Lord that shone around them in the darkness of night. So too, many depictions of those same shepherds adoring the Christ-Child in the lowly stable, present them kneeling before the Holy Family bathed in the radiant light emanating from the tiny infant in a manger—a bright radiance contrasting dramatically with the gloomy darkness of the cold and rustic stable. However, the joy and exultation on the faces of these formerly terrified shepherds, speaks of their transformation and exemplifies the twofold purpose of the Light that has come into the world.
As already suggested, the first effect of divine light shining upon the human soul is to expose its darkness and reveal the sad effects of its enslavement to sin. And while it evoked holy fear in the humble shepherds, this same light stirred up a violent fear in Herod who sought to totally extinguish the Light by massacring the Holy Innocents. The nature of our response to God’s Light will be determined by the degree of pride that still enslaves us and that would have us avoid the light that illumines our inner emptiness and nothingness without God. Only with growth in true humility are we able to endure the Light of God’s countenance and stand defenseless and uncovered before the divine gaze. Although this gaze is initially experienced as painful as it cauterizes the wounds sin has inflicted on us, God’s loving regard gradually purifies, heals, and transforms us.
And this transformation is, ultimately, to become one with and, thus, like the Light that shines so unsparingly upon our present darkness. As such, the light while initially exposing our sinfulness, simultaneously holds before us the promise/pledge of what we will become if we do not turn away from its healing rays. In the words of Iain Matthew, it becomes that experience of meeting the eyes of someone who sees through us, but does not despise us, and whose eyes hold out the possibility of becoming more than we are. ‘For God, to gaze is to love’ – a gospel gaze which blazes its way into the person’s heart. He does not simply look at the beautiful; his look makes a person beautiful. Therefore, on this special Christmas night—dark as it seems to be—let us turn anew in trust towards the Light and escape the shadows and those miserable dark places in which we have (for too long) lain hidden.
For as Saint Paul exhorts us, you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. In doing so we will be like Lazarus emerging from the darkness of the tomb having heard the summons: Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light!