Christmas Day reflection: The baby of Bethlehem calls us to live in the light
Posted: Thu, 24 Dec 2020 07:00
Reflecting on the Mass of Christmas Day, Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB highlights the message of hope brought by the birth of Jesus to all of us, even in the darkest of times. (Image: Ivan Grohar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
I wish you, your family and your loved ones, a very happy and holy Christmas. Today our pilgrimage through Advent is over and we have entered the season of Christmas-though I'd guess we have been the festive mood for some weeks now. Given the year we have endured so far, this time of levity and joy is a needed tonic-spoil yourself today and enjoy what you love doing. As we light the Christmas candle light in the centre of the Advent Wreath, we are invited to bring that light into our homes.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Jn. 1: 1-5
The world has experienced a global darkness in this pandemic, but even COVID-19 cannot vanquish our spirit. Our annual celebration of Christmas reminds us, at least here in the northern hemisphere, that even in the darkest and coldest nights there is HOPE. The birth of the Christ-child in Bethlehem brings us the gift of hope even in the darkest of nights.
John's wonderful prologue, that is used in our Christmas Day mass, is an echo of the very first book of the bible, Genesis. In the beautiful creation myth, the first thing that is created is LIGHT—God is seen as bringing order to the primordial chaos. As light dawned for the first time on the canvas of creation, life itself was born. From that first light, vegetation began to spring up from the ground, waters began to flow forth, animals of all types appeared on the surface of the planet, and then human beings emerged, bearing the image of the Creator, relying on the light of the sun as the source of their life.
Even in the midst of the darkness of a global pandemic, we have seen light—a light that has been sometimes overwhelming in the kindness of the stranger, the devotion of the NHS and those going over and beyond to serve others in our schools, care homes and parishes. Thousands of children did not go hungry because local shops, cafes and pubs stepped up and provided them with a meal. Light is there and we only have to look for it.
Today's Gospel tell us that Jesus emerged into division, war and occupation. It was into this darkness that the light and love of Christ first burst forth. In the midst of division, Christ reveals a path for reconciliation through his example of self-sacrificial love. In the midst of oppression, Christ reveals the path for liberation through the overturning of oppressive systems and the establishment of communities where everyone is given what they need and everyone is equal.
The message and meaning of Christmas is simply this: even when the world seems overwhelmingly dim, the Light of the world will do whatever it needs to break through the dark and dense shell, and reveal to us a reason for hope, a path to redemption. In the hurt, anger and darkness of these past few months, today comes as a strong reminder to us all that we can only move forward in light. In the baby of Bethlehem, we see an image and icon of what it means to live in the light—Jesus calls us to live in that light. We see revealed what truly makes life worth living. All that is truly important is there around the manger: family, peace, joy, and love in the simplicity of life. From that crib, a beam of light radiates through the darkness, extending an invitation to us all to return to what matters most.
The danger is that we will want to keep Jesus as a baby in the crib. It is a cute scene that generates warm and fuzzy feelings within us. When we are in control, it makes life so much easier for us. We need to allow Jesus to grow up, even if does challenge us with a Gospel that will make demands on our own way of life. The baby of Bethlehem will grow to the light and glory of Resurrection, but only through reality and pain. Allow this baby to grow with you, allow his message to challenge you and, above all, be prepared to walk his radical way.
For many of us, the only time we really sing in church is at Christmas. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, sadly hymn-singing is seen as a way of spreading the virus. You will probably all have a favourite; I love the carol 'Joy to the World, written in 1719 by Isaac Watts. The joy in this song is linked to the new day that God is bringing about, a day when the curses of darkness, of suffering, of injustice are overturned by the blessing of God. A day when the one righteous ruler, the God who is love, rules over us all with truth, grace, and love in the fullness of light:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love
Joy to the World: Isaac Watts
That God is with us. God loves us so much that he desires to be with us, even in the midst of our brokenness and suffering. And more than that, God desires to bless us, to make right all that is wrong in our lives and in our world. God desires to redeem us; to shine light into the depths of our lives, and expel the darkness
Christmas blessings today for you and your loved ones: enjoy this day and, if you have a chance, share your light, hope and joy with others today.
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB