Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Night Mass of Christmas (OF) - The Light in the Darkness

Silence has fallen upon the earth, the silence that comes with the long night. Only those things that inhabit the night, that prowl about in the darkness, are awake and moving. Around the world, men and women are huddled in their beds, sleeping away in the darkness, waiting for the morning. Even the great emperor, the Caesar who seems to have control of everything, sleep quietly in his palace in Rome. But not all is quiet, not all is dark.  In a small corner of a small province of the great Roman Empire, a child is born. It is that child whom we celebrate tonight. But who is this child? Why is this child so important that we celebrate his birth 2,014 years later? What is it that this child will do as a man? And what does this child mean to us here right now?
Isaiah gives us a hint about this in the first reading when he declares, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwell in the land of gloom a light has shone." It is this theme of light and darkness which pervades our mass tonight, this first mass of Christmas Day, celebrated from antiquity at night, usually at midnight. It is most appropriate to offer the celebration at night due to the birth of this child, that birth which has been traditionally held to have occurred in the night, in the darkness of the world. For it is that child who will transform the darkness into something far more marvelous.
The same child, when he becomes a man fully grown, will declare himself as the light of the world. In fact, in the massive Christmas Day, which will be celebrated tomorrow, The church proclaimed the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, the beloved apostle. St. John in that same gospel declares, "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was the light of men; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." What do we mean when we say that this child is the light? A parable may help us to understand this term and how it is that Christ the child born to us is the Light of the world.  This parable actually comes to us from a pagan Greek philosopher named Plato who lived about 500 years before the birth of Christ, but it finds great significance in a Christian context.
Imagine that the race of men are restrained in a cave deep below the earth, restrained such that they are incapable of any motion. Suppose that, on the cave wall in front of them, are projected images of things faintly lit by a fire, or, to make it more modern, by a film projector. If one had grown to maturity in this state - never moving, never being free to see anything other than that projected on the cave wall - it is no surprise that this one presumes that the images are all real, and that there is nothing else to be done but to accept them. But, if one can be freed of his shackles, see the cave walls and the limited images along with their projector, and discovers that there is something far more real, more than all that he had known, would he not desire to remain in the real world rather than return to the cramped spaces and threadbare images? Would we not rebuke one who stayed in the cave after being freed as foolish or weak or trapped in an illusion?
Jesus Christ, the child born to us this night, has done something far more marvelous than simply freeing us from the paralysis of the cave, from the darkness and false reality under which we were subjected.  This child who is declared to be the Light of the World has revealed Himself to us.  It is in answering the question “Who is this child?” that we discover how bright the Light is.  For this child, of flesh and bone like each one of us, is different in one major aspect from every other human child ever born, being born, or will be born.  This child, this tiny little infant with such a weak voice, with no strength to even turn Himself over let alone to stand and walk - this child is God.
Yes, you heard me right.  That tiny little infant is the Infinite Son of God.  That weak little voice, crying out for help, for His mother, is the same Voice which declared in the beginning “Let there be light”; the same Voice which spoke to Moses in the burning bush; the same Voice which conversed with the prophets.  This supremely feeble child with no strength in His arms or legs is the same Power by which all things are ordered and established towards their ultimate end.  Jesus Christ, the child born among us tonight, is the God who exists beyond our time.
Ours is not to understand how this happens. The ways of God at times are so far above our understanding that we will never be able to comprehend completely fully truly what he is doing. Ours is to understand that it did happen. Without losing his divinity, without taking any of it, Jesus Christ who is God, the Son of God the Father, who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, without losing any of His divinity nor without missing anything that is human, receives the same flesh and blood as each one of us here tonight. This is the mystery of the Incarnation, the Enfleshment of God. Nine months after the Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, He is born among us.
Indeed, this is a joyous night. We celebrate God coming among us, the fulfillment of the name Emmanuel, the long-desired of the nations coming to us. We indeed rejoice with the angels in echoing their triumphant chorus of praise, that Gloria which the Church recites in joy at all the great feasts, but echoes most when we celebrate this night.  Who, in contemplating this event, is not enrapt in joy?  Who does not lovingly gaze upon that humble manger to be reminded of this most joyous of news, that God shares a human life with us? The only thing that could be better than this would be to be with God all our days. But that, brothers and sisters, is the exact reason why He is born to us on this sacred night.
Going back to the parable of the cave, Jesus Christ came to share the divine light, the light of truth, the light of salvation, the light of divine love for each and every one of us.  Christ comes to reveal to us that this world is not all that it appears to be, that there is something more, something further up and further in, as C.S. Lewis alludes to in his Chronicles of Narnia series.  We sometimes sense this, that there is more than meets the eye, but we often brush it aside and settle comfortably into what our mere senses tell us.  Indeed, it seems that our age is incapable of looking at anything except what is directly in front of it, and even then does not seem the forest for the trees.
But Christ our Light shines through the darkness of our ignorance, the darkness brought on by our sins and by the work of the devil, the perpetual agent of malice against God.  He reveals to us the facade of simple reality and shows us something more is there, or rather someone who is more is there.  For Christ the light reveals to us the light which is God himself, God in three persons, the sacred Trinity. It is in Christ the man that this will be fully revealed, but we have a glimpse of this now in the ministry of Christ the child.
Let us rejoice on the sacred night. Let us rejoice at the coming of our savior, at the birth of our king and our Lord. Let us exalt with the angels in heaven glorifying him. Let our cry truly be glory to God in the highest; But what are crying not been nearly words.  For if we are to truly keep this sacred night, if we are truly to receive Christ as a child, then we must listen to Christ the man. We must listen to what Christ tells us if He is truly God among us if He is truly Emmanuel. We cannot merely adore Him as a child, but we must accept the full man, who He is and what He says to us. And what He says most of all is said not in words, but it actions, and it is said upon the cross.  For the mystery of Christmas is nothing without the mystery of the Passion and of the Resurrection. Christmas means nothing without looking towards Easter. Because Christ was born not merely to live, not merely to teach, not merely to be an example. Christ was born so that he would die the death on the cross, the death by which we would be freed of our sins and begin to enter into that blessed life God desires for us.
Let us not enter back into the cave, then, by returning to our sins, by ignoring Christ and reducing Him to a mere child.  The celebration of Christmas is worthless if we are not desiring to imitate the one in whose birth we rejoice.  Christians, do not reject the name of Christ! Do not reject what Christ has done for you by His birth in Bethlehem and by His re-birth at Calvary! We can certainly return to the dull images and easy comfort of the cave, but we will not be truly alive, truly animated to become what God has desired us to be from the very beginning of creation: the holy people of God on fire with love for Him and for all that He has done and all He has created, most especially our brothers and sisters.
If you have been slack in your Christian life, not attending Mass, not reading the Scriptures, avoiding the reception of the sacraments by which we are conformed to Christ, return to the practice of your faith.  There is no salvation or redemption in anything or anyone else.  Your things cannot save you, your lukewarmness cannot save you, no other religion can save you: It is only Christ and the one Church which He has founded, which He has maintained to this day.  Return to the Church, come back to the merciful and forgiving Father, and be restored to God.  If you are currently practicing your faith, be better.  We can always be more prayerful, more obedient in our duties, more virtuous, more faithful than we are presently.  There is no stopping in our faith: either you are moving forwards or sliding backwards.  Be strengthened by the example of Christ, of His holy mother, and by the saints who have gone before us, so as to achieve the goal of faith: your salvation, your entrance even in a remote way in this life into the glories and the joys that await in Heaven.

Let us rejoice on this night, let us rejoice in this child, but let our rejoicing not be in vain.  Christ is born to us so as to offer us salvation and sanctification, and He has already done the brunt of the work for us in His earthly life.  Ours is to decide: shall we be illuminated by the Light that has come into the world or shall we remain in the darkness of sin, of ignorance, of error, and risk losing that in which our hearts have truly desired?  May each of you have a blessed and merry Christmas, and may the glory of the Christ Child shine upon each one of you in the darkness of this night.