I remember once, when I was a little boy, walking with my family to Christmas Midnight Mass at St. Peter-in-Chains church in Ardrossan. We used to go to the church over the “canon hill” in Ardrossan which was a rather dark thoroughfare at that time. It was a cold and crisp night. There was a lot of frost on the ground and it was glistening under the moonlight. I was able to put my hand out and touch it, so I must really have been very wee.
I looked up at the moon and stars and remember asking my father, as children are wont to do, “Daddy, why are there stars in the sky?” I have never forgotten his answer. He said, “So that you won’t look at the dark.”
I recalled that incident many years later during a visit to the National Gallery in London. Among the many paintings I saw, there was Rembrandt’s “Adoration of the shepherds.” At first, it looks all black, but your eyes are immediately drawn to the light of the manger. The child in the manger is the only source of light in the whole painting. In his light, you can see the faces of Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds seemingly jostling for position.
The human eye is not made for the dark. Neither is the human heart. They are made for the light and are drawn instinctively to it. In the beautiful reading from Isaiah at Midnight Mass, the prophet proclaims with exultation: “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light! On those who dwell in a land of deep shadow, a light has shone!”
Over this past year, Covid-19 has cast an invisible and deep shadow over the earth and left many wondering about many things. There has been a sense of disorientation, a loss of former certainties; the most obvious things of life were suddenly no longer clear. And the temptation can be to dwell on the dark.
But we must look instead to the light in the manger, the great light. Our hearts and minds want to be drawn by that, not by the dark. Christ is the light of the world. He is the light of our minds, for he is incarnate truth. He is the light of our hearts, for he is incarnate love. He is even the light of our bodies, because by coming as a child, dying and rising for us, he promises the light of eternal life to our very flesh. He has given himself to us in the Eucharist as the pledge of resurrection and eternal light.
It may be that there are other shadows and forms of darkness in our lives. Well, the light of the manger is there for them, too, to scatter them and to replace them with light of peace.
A few days ago we had the longest night of the year. So we’ve now turned a corner. The days will start getting longer. So let’s go with mother nature, with the increasing light. Let’s look and search for it whenever we feel we are stumbling about in the dark. The more we let the Lord in, the more we ourselves become light, not just for ourselves, but for others.
On this sanctuary this evening, we have a lot of lights and candles. Around our towns, there are Christmas lights everywhere. But the real light of Christmas in our towns is here in front of me: you are that light! But if you dwell on the dark, how will your friends and neighbours see the light?
So, I invite you all to lift up your hearts to the Lord, as we say during the Mass, and to let them be lit up by the Lord, glowing as he lies in the manger. His light is far greater than that of the Christmas Star! He is Light from Light, God from God, and no darkness can ever overcome Him!