“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
Light and darkness are prominent physical features of the Christmas season. They’re also prominent historical and spiritual themes of the readings this week.
Historically, for God’s people, there was the darkness of slavery in Egypt and the light of freedom in the Promised Land. Isaiah spoke of the darkness of the Babylonian Exile, when the land of Judah would be called “Forsaken” and “Desolate.” He also spoke of the light of the return from Exile, when the land would be called “My Delight,” and “Espoused,” and “Frequented.”
The darkness of sin throughout the history of the Chosen People is intermingled with the light of covenant fidelity in some individuals and at some times. The darkness and light in the genealogy of Jesus can be summarized in just one line: “David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.” The darkness of sin and ignorance and the light of truth and grace show up throughout Church history and in every one of our lives.
Faith tells us that Jesus is the light who shines in the darkness, and calls us to bring His light to every darkness we encounter. How can we do that?
Physically, many of us put up Christmas lights. If we do that with a prayer, it can be more than just a secular celebration. It can be a physical symbol of our desire to bring the light of Jesus into the darkness of the world and any darkness that people experience in their lives. We can bring Jesus’ light into the world physically.
Psychologically, Isaiah speaks of God bringing light to people’s darkness when he says: “You have brought them abundant joy … for the yoke that burdened them you have smashed.” People experience many kinds of burdens at this time of year: loneliness, for example, from the absence of family members, or anxiety and stress from the presence of family members! When our encounters with people are rooted in prayer — we pray for them before and after — then those encounters can offer a deep peace and a deep connection that brings the light of Jesus to them psychologically.
Spiritually, the deepest darkness in people’s lives is sin and despair. Jesus is the light who brings the forgiveness of sins, which gives us hope of eternal life. So Isaiah says: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of Him who brings glad tidings … announcing salvation.” We can do this by bringing the good news of Jesus to people: Sins can be forgiven, and heaven has been opened.
That’s why we have this great — if seemingly odd — liturgical sequence: The first day after Christmas is the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. The Church wants to make the Christmas message clear in a nutshell: Jesus came from heaven into this world so that His followers could go from this world into heaven.
Whatever darkness people experience, they need to hear the Christmas message: Jesus is the light that shines in every darkness. Let’s bring that message to the world physically, psychologically and spiritually. Merry Christmas!