by Sister Mary Forman, Prioress ~ December 24, 2020
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96: 1-3, 11-13; Titus 2:11-14; and Luke 2:1-14
Blessed Christmas everyone, especially to our friends who are viewing on-line! “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Is 9:1). I have been pondering the meaning of light throughout Advent this year, given the circumstances of our living through the pandemic, political turmoil and the hungers of so many.
The darkness is seen in the fears and dealing with the realities of covid-19, with deep concern for health-care workers, first responders and essential workers, exposing themselves for hours, days and months to the virus, while trying to save the lives of their patients suffering with the virus and having to tell families their loved one has passed.
Many of our fellow Americans have lived for years, might we say decades, under the gloom of slavery, second class citizenship, and suspicion merely because of the color of their skin. Into this gloom the light of solidarity and cries for justice and awakening has begun to shine.
Many of the world’s poor have been forced onto the streets or refugee camps, to beg for food and to long for saving from their distress. Into their darkness, musicians have stood on apartment balconies to lighten the hearts of the poor and all of us with songs of hope and encouragement. Neighbors, restaurant owners and food banks have fed the homeless and hungry for days now and these acts of kindness have lightened our own hearts as we hear about them.
Many struggling with the darkness of depression, despair, and desperation have received the gift of listening ears, helping hands and heartfelt peaceful presence of family members and strangers reaching out to them. The light has shone upon both the recipients and the givers of presence.
These are just a few examples of how Christ, the light of world, has come clothed in the humanity of goodness. Light often is associated with theophany, that is, the appearance or manifestation of God. Glory is frequently a substitute in the scriptures for light. The “glory of the Lord” is how the light is brought forward in our gospel for this evening, as the angels appear to the shepherds. In this epiphany event, according to the scripture scholar Robert Karris, the angels announce “the meaning of Jesus,…the Davidic Messiah who will bring about the eschatological gift of peace”; “the angels’ revelation of the meaning of Jesus is accepted by the lowly shepherds and pondered by Mary, who models for believers the necessity of reflecting upon and embodying peace.” That gift of peace reflects one of the names for this “child born to us,” in the first reading, the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5).
This prince of peace, a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a trough for feeding animals, seems hardly princely. He certainly is not rocked in a hand-carved centuries-old royal cradle, handed down from king to prince-son. Yet from this manger, he will be food for the hungry and bringer of peace. Angels announce the good news of great joy that this child is a savior born for us (cf. Lk 2:10-11).
The psalmist echoes the same joy, in the words, “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord…bless [the Lord’s] name…Tell his glory among the nations, among the peoples, his wondrous deeds” (Ps 96:1-2, 3b). This prince “comes to rule the earth [and] shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with constancy” (Ps 96:12b); justice describes the dominion of this God-hero (cf. Is 9:5).
“Hero” has been the language most frequently applied to our front-line workers in care of those seriously ill with covid-19. Hero could as easily be attributed to those marching for justice on behalf of their disenfranchised brothers and sisters and those protecting them as they march. Heroes are all around us and often where we least expect to find them. In their random acts of kindness they manifest the God-hero, the Christ made flesh.
This Advent and Christmas season, I think of the Sisters and employees, the heroes among us, who have stepped up to carry food to our own sick; who did dishes several times a day; who gave comfort and direction to those disoriented by the move; who ran errands for other Sisters; who spent their days moving foodstuffs and pots and pans back into the kitchen; who reminded us to appreciate the work of the construction crew, but not to interrupt that work for a chat; who decorated the house for this celebration; and who found flashlights when the electricity went out.
Speaking of lights, walking home in the dark during the night when we had no lights, we noticed the stars and delighted in their shining. The light breaking under the door from the hallway was a welcoming sign that electricity was back on, something we often take for granted. The light breaking through the clouds in the brilliance of pink, peach and golden hues in the morning sky outside our windows sets our hearts at peace. Sitting in the silence of the darkened chapel with only the light from the advent candles has prepared us for this night of celebrating “the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ,” as Titus declares (2:13). These examples of light are just a few of the wonders that have brought hope, another aspect of light, so we become “a people…eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14).
If you are someone, who has “walked in darkness,” may you “see a great light”; if you have “dwelt in the land of gloom,” may the appearance of “a light [that] has shone” bring you hope and give you courage to do what is good this Christmas season, to bring light to others. Blessed Christmas!
John L. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc./London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1965), s.v. “Light,” 511.
Robert J. Karris, “The Gospel According to Luke,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990, 1968), sec.43:29, 682.