“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone.”
These are the great words of Isaiah that begin the Scriptures for Midnight Mass, true words in the time of the prophet, and true words today.
Our nation is embroiled in two wars, and there are other wars and conflicts always at work in the world. The economy, while seeming quite sublime for a few, has been atrocious and frightening for many. This land is beset by partisan politics in which the best of ideas, when proposed by one side, must be rejected without hope of compromise or statesmanship by the other. We might have a flicker of hope for some meaningful health care legislation, but we haven’t even touched the problem of justice for immigrants. We look with hatred and fear at those who are different, especially if they come from the Middle East or worship Allah. Homeless people freeze, and hungry people starve in the middle of a place that, despite the recession, remains the nation with the most economic clout anywhere.
The leaders of the church I belong to have not yet figured out the benefits of openness and transparency in our dealings both with members of the congregation and people in the wider world. Therefore, the hardships created by the sexual abuse crisis and the sporadic episodes of financial mismanagement by various parishes and dioceses linger, fester, and even grow. Some of our leaders complain of how the media has exacerbated the problems when it is our ordained leaders (no matter how small or large the numbers may be) who have abused the children and stolen the money. At a time when the Catholic Church uses a TV campaign to reach out to those who have drifted away for all sorts of reasons, and those who have left in anger over our problems, and those who feel disenfranchised because they have in some way violated the rules, we have other Catholics who think more should be forced away from the People of God because they are not serious enough about following the rules (or not serious enough in the eyes of those who are doing the complaining).
These are only a few of the public woes that keep us walking in darkness. This time of year, more than any other, heightens the gloom of personal woes. Those who grieve feel it more keenly when the houses are decorated and the carols are sung. Depression can easily deepen for addicts, the unemployed, and their families. Those who have a soldier or civilian contractor in a war zone feel their normal fears more acutely around this time of year.
And yet there is light. And always there is hope. Isaiah tells us again:
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us,
upon his shoulders dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast and forever peaceful,
From David’s throne, which he confirms and sustains
By judgment and justice, both now and forever.”
The great hope of our time and all time is the Incarnation. When Jesus took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, humanity itself was transformed by God’s wish and God’s will. That means that all of life is a sacrament, a way of making Jesus present through us, his Mystical Body on earth. The work of the Incarnation is that of justice. We must be about the things that Jesus did in his life. As he tells us in the Gospel of John, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” If we are to continue the work of Jesus Christ, then we must reconcile, forgive, heal, and bring about God’s mercy through our own sacrificial acts. Then Isaiah’s words will be true that “the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster [God] has smashed.”
It’s all about love. It’s all about the truth that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son to be its savior.” It’s about our belief in that amazing truth and our willingness to act it out in our own lives. God has touched the world in a definitive way when he allowed himself to be born in the person of Jesus Christ. We touch the world in thousands and millions of ways when we show the love we have received through that miraculous Nativity.
“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!”
God bless you always!
Father Phil Cyscon
(The Scriptural words quoted above come from Isaiah chapter 9, verses 1-6, and the Gospel of John, chapters 3 and 15.)