Saturday, December 24, 2011
Midnight Mass: Let the Light Shine
When I was ten years old, a great darkness came over the land. The lights went out for 25 million people, in an 80,000 square mile area of Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. It was the great blackout of November 1965, caused by a massive power failure.
Without warning, hundreds of thousands of people were stuck: stuck in subway and commuter trains, in elevators, at the top of skyscrapers.
In such circumstances, there were the usual grumblings and complaints, to be sure. But, in general, something quite amazing happened: the blackout brought people together! Folks who had taken the same commuter train for years spoke to their neighbors for the first time. People in elevators started to sing to pass the hours. The cold rush hour crowd began to thaw.
Those stuck in their top floor offices began to enjoy the night-time view for the first time, and point out its beauty to their coworkers.
And to everyone's amazement, the crime rate in New York City went down.
The darkness had actually brought people together, given them a chance to slow down and communicate—given them a chance to experience community.
It's a wonderful bit of history. But it makes me ask this question: if the darkness can bring people closer to one another, shouldn't the light—the one, true, light of the world—do the same, only more?
Should the darkness do a better job of forming a community than the Light does?
Isaiah tells us that "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." Who are those people?
Isaiah says "those who lived in land of deep darkness: on them light has shined." What is that light?
You know the answer: The light is Jesus, shining in even the darkest places of our world and of our hearts.
And who are those people who walked in darkness? We are those people—God's people.
Is it possible that the failure of a power station can draw people closer to one another than the one, true Light whose coming we celebrate tonight? Can blackouts have more influence on our lives than the birth of the Lord who brings salvation to all?
Let us hope not. Let us pray not. We can decide, this Christmas, at this Mass, to allow the light to change how we relate to one another in our homes, in our workplaces or schools, and most especially in our parish. We are not thrown together like people stuck on the same elevator; we are called together by our baptism, by our faith, by our hope, by our love for God and for one another.
I think it was the atheist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre—or maybe Nietzsche, also an atheist, who said "for me to believe in the Redeemer, those Christians need to look more redeemed."
How do we, as Christians, live in the light—how do we start looking more redeemed, especially as we celebrate Christ's birth.
There are as many answers as there are people in the pews this night. Asking God to heal and forgive our sins, particularly in confession, is the first way that comes to my mind, since the appearance of our Saviour trains us, as St. Paul says, to renounce our sins and live godly lives.
When God forgives our sins, he lifts the yoke from our shoulders, and frees us from the heavy weight that oppresses us. If there is something hanging over your head, or weighing on your soul, let Christmas be the moment when you ask God to set you free.
I heard a story about a priest who was harassed by a man in his parish many years ago. The man started false rumours about him, wrote vicious letters to the bishop and others, and launched petitions to have him removed.
But after several months the man moved away, and began to change his life and draw nearer to God. Eventually, he realized the harm he had done to the innocent priest, and he wrote a long letter apologizing for what he'd done and begging forgiveness for the injustice.
The priest replied by a three word telegram: "Forgiven, forgotten, forever."
Now it might have been that the priest was cheap—telegrams were expensive—but I doubt it. He'd said everything in those three words. God is just as economical with us: forgiven, forgotten, forever, is what God says when we kneel before him in sorrow. This how salvation works: God forgives our debt, just for the asking. The people who walked in darkness have truly seen a great light.
But the second way to celebrate Christmas is to let others see us walking in the light. We need to learn a thing or two from those stuck in the great blackout of '65. Do we reach out to others in fellowship, in friendship, letting down our guard and taking a few risks? Now is the time to let God increase our joy so much that people can't miss it!
"You have multiplied the nation," Isaiah says. How does God multiply his people today? By their witness, their readiness to share the good news. Christmas isn't only for Christians, but for all—we're called to invite others to walk towards the Light, in the Light.
There's a song youngsters sometimes sing that goes "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." It's not much of a Christmas carol—because the light isn't mine, and it isn't little! It's a great light, a marvelous light, a blazing light: because it is God himself. It is God made visible. It is God made man. For me, certainly, but not for me alone: for the world, the waiting world, the world that is darkened by sin and fear.
The light of Christ doesn't shine like the sun or the moon, far away. It shines in us, through us, when we share with others the gift we have received, the joy that increases in us.
To share Christ's light we have to start by living in it—as St. Paul tells us, we must live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly. But that's not enough. Some of us need to know more about "this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us" at Christmas.
For those people, in January our parish will offer a basic introduction to Christianity called the Alpha Course. A lively and interesting program, Alpha welcomes anyone who is remotely interested in the Christian answers to the big questions about life.
Some of us, of course, already know the message. For those people, the Alpha course is an ideal opportunity to share it with others—by inviting a friend or co-worker or family member, and tagging along with them. There are details in the bulletin and we have some flyers as well.
Whether it's finding out more about Christ, or sharing what we know with others, Christmas is the time to let the light shine in our hearts—freed from sin, freed from fear, and full of hope.