The Divine Light Shining in a Dark World
The people walking in darkness has seen a great light… The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it… I am the light of the world, whoever believes in me shall not walk in darkness but will walk in the light of life. (Isaiah 9:2; John 1:5; John 9:5; John 12:46)
These words of Holy Scripture summarize the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is about LIGHT, but not only about the lights around town that we see in every neighborhood and on every street. Those Christmas lights symbolize the One True Light that has come into the world. Christmas is about much more than one miraculous star that shined brightly 2000 years ago and led the wise men to find the Christ child. More significantly, Christmas is about the coming of the DIVINE LIGHT into a dark world. This is the Good News of great joy which the angels proclaimed to the shepherds – the Divine Light has come into a world of darkness!
The Divine Light became a human being, and for those who choose to receive that Light, and follow that Light, their lives will never be the same. The Divine Light has come into a world of darkness and has changed our perspective of the world and our hope for the future, and it can change the lives of each one of us!
This past semester, I took students at Hellenic College Holy Cross who were studying in my world religions course to visit different places of worship for various religions. Inevitably, when we visited a conservative Jewish synagogue to observe their evening prayers, and listen to a rabbi talk about Judaism, one of the questions my students asked him was why Jews didn’t believe that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. The rabbi gave a challenging answer. He believed that when the Messiah would come on earth, he would bring peace and good will to all people. The Jewish Messiah would usher in an era of peace and stability, where, as the prophets say, the lamb and the lion will sit down together. And the rabbi went on to rightly state that if you look at the world before the coming of Jesus, and the world after the coming of Jesus, you don’t really see much change. The years of BC and the years of AD are both full of darkness – the darkness of violence, ignorance, evil, and ongoing death. So one can honestly ask, “What difference has the coming of Jesus made in the world? If He is truly the Messiah, why hasn’t the world changed?”
A valid and hard question that we Christians need to answer. The world is still full of such darkness. Just look at the news every day, and we can read about bombing and killings, about hatred and evil, about greed and suffering, and the destruction to our world’s planet as well as the destruction to God’s greatest creation, humanity itself. Two thousand years after the coming of the Messiah and there still seems to be too much darkness in the world.
And yet, Holy Scriptures says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light… The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it… I am the light of the world, whoever believes in me shall not walk in darkness but will walk in the light of life.”
Again I ask, “What difference has the coming of Jesus made in the world? If He is truly the Messiah, why hasn’t the darkness of the world changed?”
Well, if we believe that this first coming of Christ, and that is what Christmas celebrates, will usher in an era of peace and good will on earth, then we don’t understand well what the Bible, the Church, and our Christian faith actually teach. In fact, if we dream about peace and good will on earth here and now – for a utopia on earth – then we don’t truly understand or even know what Jesus Himself taught. Jesus clearly told his followers that there would be many wars and tumultuous times in the future. He warned his followers that they must be prepared take up their cross, to suffer and die, and become martyrs of the faith. The little baby born in Bethlehem would Himself grow up and experience all the darkness and ignorance and violence of the world, and would suffer terribly, even tasting death itself. So in a very concrete sense, Jesus never promised that the world we live in would become a better, more peaceful, more beautiful place in the near future.
Let’s be careful not to turn Christmas into a sentimental holiday where everything looks beautiful and false promises are made. Instead, proclaim Christmas for what it is - a radical announcement of hope in the midst of ongoing darkness. The Divine Light has shined in the midst of a dark world, and given us hope that darkness isn’t the only way. We can follow a different path of peace in the midst of this dark world. There can embrace light and hope and love in this world even in the midst of darkness!
One of my favorite images for understanding Christmas can be taken from World War 2. Think of the devastating war that engulfed the entire world for six years. War is the pinnacle of the world’s darkness, evil and suffering. So during WW2, many people suffered terribly and were longing for an end to the war. And when did that end happen? Well in the European theatre, one could argue that the end of WW2 began on D-Day, June 6, 1944 when the allied forced landed on the beaches of Normandy. Once the allied forces got a foothold on mainland Europe, the end of the war was in sight. This was the beginning of the end of the war!
And yet, how much longer did the war go on? V-Day, the actual end of the war didn’t happen for another 15 months on September 2, 1945. During those 15 months, there was still much bloodshed and violence, darkness, suffering and death as the war raged on. Yet both the allied forces, and the axis powers knew that the tides of the war had turned, and the end was near. For the subjugated peoples, they understood the good news that the oppression and tyranny of evil forces was coming to an end. This is the message of Christmas!
Christmas can be seen as D-Day against the forces of Satan and all his powers of darkness. Christ’s Second Coming will ultimately be V-Day. At Christmas - Christ’s First Coming - God entered the world in a new and radical way that fundamentally signifies the eventual end of darkness in the world. As we heard in the Epistle reading for today’s feast, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son.” The coming of our Eternal God as a human being, the coming of the Uncreated Light into a world of darkness, the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the Christ as the Savior of the world, offers a sign of hope to the world that the reign of darkness is coming to an end!
Yes, there is still darkness and violence and much evil occurring each and every day in the world today, and it will continue and even get worse until the Second Coming of Christ. Yet now we can understand that we are in that difficult yet hopeful period in between D-Day and V-Day. The Good News of Great Joy at Christmas announces that a Savior is born, God has come among us, and given the world hope! For everyone who chooses to accept this Divine Light in our own lives, we will never despair of any darkness we see all around us, because we know that the darkness shall never prevail. V-Day is around the corner. And until that time, we will engage against the darkness. We may suffer from the darkness but we know through Christ we can overcome it. We can overcome the darkness of ignorance by living in the light of divine knowledge. We can overcome the darkness of sin and evil by living in the light of God’s goodness. We can overcome the darkness of hatred and violence by living in the light of divine forgiveness and mercy. We can overcome the darkness of death by living in the light of Christ’s resurrection and victory!
Christmas is about “people walking in darkness and seeing a great light.” Christmas is about “Light shining in the darkness and the darkness never overcoming it.” Christmas is about Jesus, “the light of the world, helping whoever believes in Him to never walk in darkness but to always walk in the light of life.”
This is Good News of Great Joy to everyone who chooses to understand and live by the Divine Light of Jesus Christ. My rabbi friend may choose not to understand and live in this Divine Light, and therefore see a world of darkness all around. Many secular and non-religious friends may choose to not understand and live in this Divine Light, and therefore miss the ultimate meaning of life. Even many so-called Christians may not understand and live in this Divine Light, being influenced by the voices and skeptics of the world, and therefore miss the essence of what our Christian Faith is truly all about.
Yet for those of us who believe and follow Jesus Christ, we know that a Divine Light has shined forth, and we will never be afraid of darkness again!
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Sunday of the 7th Ecumenical Council; Carpus, Papylus, Agathodorus, & Agathonica, the Martyrs of Pergamus; Benjamin the Deacon; Chryssi the New Martyr of Greece; Florentios the Martyr of Thessaloniki; Meletios of Pegas, Patriarch of Alexandria
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Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019