Arise, shine out, for your light has come! Though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples, above you the Lord now rises and above you his glory appears.
We all need light, as individuals and as communities. There is so much night in modern life, so much darkness in the modern heart and mind. Even in this parish, there has recently been the dark feeling or conviction that it would not continue. But the Lord made a light shine, a hope appear, when it seemed there would be none. His star arose and, as the Magi experienced when they approached Bethlehem, this parish experienced a renewed joy, a sense that the Lord was once more filling his people with his divine delights.
But what of your own personal lives? I have no doubt that many of you do experience the light of the Lord shining above and within you. That is a treasure, a great blessing for us all! I equally have no doubt, however, that some of you present this evening, and others absent, sense that the night, darkness, covers your lives, your souls, your spirits, your hearts. It may be your memory that is in dark remorse over past sin. It may be that your conscience is in a dark night, where you can see neither what is right nor wrong any more. It may be that you are spiritually and psychologically hemmed in, imprisoned, uncertain of what life is about, where it is going. Perhaps you even struggle to know who you truly are and why you exist at all, and what is the point and purpose of the struggle and the pain, the failure and the fragility. It may be that your social persona puts forth flashes of a rather artificial light whilst deep down you feel an emptiness, a dryness, a futility and even a despair.
If any of this describes how you feel, how you are within yourself, then listen! Lift up the eyes of your heart and mind and conscience! Look hard, look steadily, look confidently, for above and upon you the Lord truly shines. Above and in you his glory appears. He shows himself to you. The light of his face shines upon you. The radiance of his divine smile makes you look radiant, makes your heart throb and be filled, because He has come for you, He has come to you, He wants you, He loves you, He redeems you, He heals you, He lifts you up, He sanctifies you, He glorifies you. He knows your darkness, He feels it for He is in it. He knows your past sins, he wants you to bring them to him like a trusting infant, so that you may know the unspeakable peace and joy of his forgiveness. He knows your illness, and suffers it with you, so that if your body is not healed, your soul is healed by his presence. He knows your broken family relationships; he lives that pain even more deeply than you do and from within it he works his beautiful paths of reconciliation, at least helping you to surrender those relationships to him. He knows your tragedies, be they psychological, physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual; be they of addiction, or of seemingly unbreakable habits of sin. He does not abhor you because you sin, or are unfaithful, or because you feel depressed or worthless, or have lost confidence, or because you are handicapped, or seem to be a failure in the eyes of society, or are an unemployed father or mother or because you have been raped or abused or humiliated in any way whatsoever. Christ never abhors the sinner. He loves the sinner and because of that he abhors the sin which afflicts his beloved sinner.
For more than anything at all, you are his, you belong to Him, you are his flesh and blood, you are his brothers and sisters, you are his friends, you are his beloved. Your sin he has already destroyed, but you must bring it to him to apply that destruction. Your weakness is your strength, if you let Him in to fortify you. Your addictions are but a twisted longing for eternity, which he will give you if you let him help you let them go. Your slavery to sinful habits is but a helpless longing for freedom, for certainty, for security: all things which he will give you if you will let Him in, if you will stop believing the lie that he hates you because you do what is wrong and instead believe the truth that precisely because you do what is wrong he wants all the more to free you to live in his love.
So, arise! Let the helpless babe cry out to you. Lift him up in your arms and you will be lifted up in his. Kiss him, and know his kiss for you. Cradle him, and know that he consoles and embraces you with the power of his tender and divine humility. Smile with tears of joy that God is so little, so cute, so sweet, so helpless, so vulnerable, so utterly in love with you. Join the shepherds and the kings and, yes, even the ox and the ass, and forget yourself for a moment. Remember only Him, remember how little he has become because he considers you so great, so precious, so renowned in his eyes, in his heart. Why make your own darkness, your own misery, your own self-loathing, your own self-hatred the measure of your existence? Why believe the deception of Lucifer, the so-called bearer of light, who actually bears nothing but more darkness and accusation and remonstration and negativity? The true light that arises and shines upon you is the Light of the Christ-Child, who scatters the shadows of your own inadequate and destructive ways of looking at yourself and at others! This Child, the only-begotten before all ages, created you with eyes. If he gave you eyes, he wanted you to see. If he wanted you to see, it was because he had light for you with which to see. If he had light to make you see, it was because there was something he wanted you to see. And that something is none other than himself, his splendour, his powerful, beautiful and majestic face, a face he once formed in Adam and Eve, a face he took from the Virgin, a face bespattered and bruised on the Cross, and a face which is now the risen incarnation of the very beauty of God.
Reality is not your misery, but his mercy. Reality is not your sin, but his love for you. Reality is not the passing and ephemeral experiences of sickness, madness, war, famine and disease, but the promise of an everlasting glory which is already the reality of so many of the human race who have gone before us through the portal of death. So much of today’s so-called reality is like chaff before the wind. In the West we consider important and life-determining things which are either frivolous or beneath our human dignity. We are sold on appearances, on possessions, on status, on the illusion of power and control, on a freedom which is not even as free as that of the animals and is devoid of any true purpose of lasting value. And if you are charitable and kind, if you are faithful and committed, if you bear the burden of the daily struggle to raise a family, to earn and honest living, to look after the poor and weak: you are considered dull and beneath the standards of the self-appointed elite. The intrinsic value of things has been sacrificed to the pragmatic and efficient. Love has been replaced with convenience or lust and yet both arrogate to themselves love’s name. Truth has been disqualified by the infantile claim to a sort of personal infallibility by which something is true just because I say so, irrespective of whether or not millennia of wisdom and learning say the opposite. As for God, well that’s just a non-starter, and a very laughable non-starter; or worse, talk of God is actually now perceived as dangerous, as brainwashing, as threatening the omnipotence and omniscience of the technologically savvy and scientifically accomplished or, if we are honest, of the selfish. The worthless claim the throne of the Only Worthy One.
And so the litany of lies goes on. And it would itself be laughable if it were not in the process robbing the human being of his inalienable dignity and of his transcendent destiny and, to boot, insulting the holiness of God. Yet, despite it all, as when we sing the Gloria even when we don’t feel like it, we must defiantly exclaim: Arise, o man and woman! Arise! Shine out, for the glory of the Lord is upon you, no matter those dark shadows which still today cover the minds of so many. Pay no heed to the claims of Lucifer. Shut them out of your mind and ears. Instead, bathe your deepest soul in the Light of Bethlehem, the true Light of the world! Be not daunted, disappointed or desperate! Christ your Light shines upon and within you, and He is a Light which darkness can never conquer. Your eyes will behold your Redeemer and your God, and your faces will shine with joy.