“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, You have increased its joy; they rejoiced before You as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, You have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.”
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2-6)
These words of the Prophet Isaiah are proclaimed to us when we gather for the first Mass of the Nativity of our Lord on the evening when He was born. They are the first reminder that since the fall of humanity, the world was waiting for a Savior. They speak to the expectation of the people of Israel as they awaited the Messiah. But they are not just words for the past, they are words as well that speak to the longing of the hearts of all humanity for our Lord Jesus Christ.
The reading begins with people in darkness, in fact deep darkness. I suppose that as we have come through a difficult time within the past year and a half, we might be able to empathize with this in a much more concrete way. But I think that the darkness of our pandemic world is only one place of darkness when in fact we encounter many. Loneliness, despair and isolation have been a part of our pandemic world, but these feelings can be felt by many who may have little hope and little connection to the God Who loves them. And of course there is also the darkness of sin that is a constant part of our human experience.
As we reflect on this reading, it is exactly this connection that we seek; we seek to have our sins forgiven and partake of the light of life. We desire to truly know our Creator and to have a relationship with Him. The reading from Isaiah reminds us that when we find this knowledge and this relationship, there will be great joy.
This joy is encountered in two separate ways, the joy as at the harvest and the exultation when dividing plunder. We can think of this as the joy of something that we have worked for and the joy of an unearned gift, because coming to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord is both of these things. We have come through the season of Advent and its time of preparation. We have heard the words of the prophets preparing us; we have encountered the message of John the Baptist telling us to get our lives on a straight path so that we can more fully welcome the Messiah; we have encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary, with her resounding ‘yes’ to God giving us the example of how we are to approach this Christmas season. Hopefully we have worked hard in our time of preparation and now with the birth of the Savior we rejoice as at the harvest.
But we also know that the gift we have received is beyond anything we have earned or deserve. We have received the gift of the very presence of God Himself. Although we have spent time in preparation this gift is far above and beyond anything that we could have expected. We are called to receive the presence of Christ into our world and into our lives with the joy of finding a great unexpected treasure.
In this great gift to us God begins to clear away all that separates us from Him. The “yoke of our burden” is removed. As a part of our human condition, we each share the burden of weak and sinful humanity, but in the birth of Jesus, God is united with humanity and comes to lift that burden.
This message that we encounter when we gather for worship at Holy Mass on the Nativity, and in fact each time we gather, is a joyous mystery that must be shouted from the rooftops. In fact, the angels give it voice on that Christmas night when, “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom He favors.’” (Luke 2:14) This verse is proclaimed to us in the Gospel for this day and remains with us in the Gloria at Mass throughout the year.
But Jesus Christ comes to us in the Nativity, not as a conquering victor, but as an infant child. We know that the time of sacrifice and victory will come, but for now we can only stand and behold the mystery: the invisible God becomes visible as a small child; the almighty God is born as a weak infant; the unknowable God lies before us in the manger. Through this day’s Nativity, God has visited His people, and we rejoice because God has chosen to come to us.
My brothers and sisters, we certainly know that there will continue to be darkness within our world, until the time of the final victory of Jesus Christ. But we also know that because the Christ Child has come to us there is also a light in our world. It is the light of the presence of Almighty God with us. It is the light of the eternal presence of the Creator. It is the light of the Savior of humanity. It is the light of the One Who brings salvation to His people. It is the Light of Christ. Jesus Himself tells us, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
As we gather in our parishes to worship Almighty God, the loving Father, Who sent His Son Jesus Christ to us as a gracious gift of light, let us begin to put the deeds of darkness, the ways of darkness and the times of darkness behind us. Let us, with the presence of Christ in our lives, follow Him Who shows us the way as the Wonderful Counselor. Let us follow Him Who rules our hearts and minds as the Mighty God. Let us follow Him Who loves us as the Everlasting Father. And let us follow Him Who brings peace to our lives and to our world as the Prince of Peace. Let us follow Him Who is the Light of the World.
To my brother Bishops, to the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, to the Deacons and all the Faithful, I extend to you all my wishes that at this Christmas we will come to more fully know, love and worship our Lord Jesus Christ, and that His presence will bring Peace, Happiness and Joy into your lives and into our world. May the blessings of the Christ Child be present to you in this holiest of seasons and may He remain with us all in the New Year.