“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” the prophet Isaiah proclaims tonight, “upon those who dwelt in a land of gloom, a light has shown.”
If ever there was a year when those words capture the importance of Christmas, it is 2018. The darkness this year has been overwhelming at times with school shootings, children separated from their parents at the border, the deep divisions that exist in so many segments of society reflected daily in the divisive discourse that floods social media, and the ongoing scandal in the church. We have witnessed disasters that have taken so many lives, homes, and livelihoods in hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, as even now the death toll continues to rise in the aftermath of a tsunami in Indonesia.
There seems to be a dark cloud hanging over the earth making the world a “land of gloom.”
But tonight, we celebrate the birth of light that reminds us no matter how deep the darkness is around us, there is a light that dwells within that has the power to overcome the night. We have seen this light, experienced this light, know this light: it is Christ the Lord!
Fifty years ago, December 24, 1968, the world was in a very dark and dangerous time eerily like today. You remember 1968. We have been reminded often this year of the 50thanniversary of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. The country was divided by a contentious election and polarized over issues of race and the war in Vietnam. College campuses were erupting in opposition to the war as people took to the streets to shout their resistance.
Amid this land of gloom, a voice came from the heavens. Three voices actually—the voices of astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders who as they approached the moon and began their lunar orbit, they sent Christmas greetings to the world by reading the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis. The Christmas message from the crew of Apollo 8 became the most watched television program ever at the time.
When they quoted the first words spoken by God in Genesis, “Let there be light,” a new hope was born in the hearts of people around the world. I was 13 years old at the time, but I remember how we all gathered around the old black and white television set and witnessed this remarkable event. We were seeing the “man in the moon” up close and personal. We were listening to the voices of astronauts recalling our creation story. In a very real sense, they were reminding us that God is in charge and God still believes in us.
News reports from that time talked about how bitter enemies on opposite sides of the issues like the war in Vietnam hugged or joined hands as the mission of Apollo 8 and the message of light amid darkness brought people together. For a moment, at least, there was peace, there was light, there was hope.
Tonight, we gather around the manger and the altar to listen not to astronauts but angels calling out to poor shepherds tidings of great joy. Like most messengers from the heavens, they tell the shepherds and us, “Do not be afraid.” No matter how dangerous the world seems; no matter how distant the light appears, tonight there is hope: “For behold, in the city of David, a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.”
The sign for this new hope, this new creation, could not be more counter-cultural: “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” This is the sign that will transform the darkness in a land filled with doom and gloom. This is the sign that will turn on the light in the hearts of every person—the light that reminds us who we are as children of God. This is the sign that will turn us from “godless ways and worldly desires” to live as brothers and sisters who await the “blessed hope” of God-with-us.
Make room tonight for that light that is born again in each of us. See it in the eyes of children when they realize Santa has brought them just what they wanted.
Make room for the light that shines within us that reminds us who we are as God’s beloved. See it in the hands of those who spend Christmas at food pantries or serving a meal at the homeless shelter.
Make room tonight for the light that will overcome the darkness of the world and bring us peace. See it in the gratitude of those who receive the kindness and love of strangers who remind them they are not alone.
Yes, make room tonight for that light to shine once again in our lives. Merry Christmas to you and all those you love and serve so faithfully!
With peace, hope, and light,
Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.