Sunday, December 25, 2016

Liberated by a Child

“You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed…” (Is 9:2-3)

We gather in darkness for this Midnight Mass, and the darkness that envelopes this night is symbolic of the darkness that looms over the world that the light of Christ comes to conquer.  All this month as went through Advent, I kept hearing from people: “I can’t wait for this year to be over.”  It’s as if the same dark cloud that constantly follows poor Charlie Brown has been following us all year.  People calling that loved ones or they themselves are sick, in hospitals.  As Christmas was approaching, people were not, well, rejoicing.  So when I sat down with these readings this morning to pray over them, the second and third verse of the first reading from the prophet Isaiah jumped out at me.  We have been wandering around burdened by sin, by the darkness of the world, by the news on television, by turmoil in our own families, and we just haven’t had the chance to let in even a sliver of light from up above. 

Well that ends tonight, for we gather to behold a Virgin and her husband adoring a newborn baby.  In the silence of that holy night, the light of the manger overpowers any darkness and brings us hope.  We don’t have to wait for the New Year to start anew, for this child calls us to something new tonight.  All our cares have vanished, all our burdens seem lighter, and darkness is overcome by the light from Bethlehem.  Notice the shepherds in the fields that first Christmas night.  They were afraid when the angels appeared.  They were out in the fields with the flocks to protect them and probably thought any noise was a threat to the sheep entrusted to their care.  Yet the first thing the angel says to them is “do not be afraid.”  No need to worry or be anxious, for something extraordinary has happened: our God has come to save us.  He has become a little child.  And as the angel told Joseph: “he will save his people from their sins.”

So tonight we gather to embrace hope.  We gather to embrace this child who has come into our lives to save us.  We gather to rejoice because light has conquered darkness.  The Lord has “smashed” whatever burden we may be carrying.  And when we leave those burdens and that darkness behind, what are we left with?  We are left in silence contemplating this transcendental scene: “an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.”  As Pope Francis said in Midnight Mass last year: "So when we hear the story of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak." In becoming a baby, our God becomes helpless to free us from our helplessness.  This is the wonder of Christmas.  So many times I’ve been in a hospital when family and friends have babies and I see how those babies change lives.  Now this baby, this divine child, comes to change all lives.  Darkness is no more.  Our Light has come! We are filled with abundant joy for “today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.”