Christmas, Mass at Midnight - 2008
Rt. Rev. Lawrence Stasyszen, O.S.B.
St. Gregory’s Abbey: Shawnee, Oklahoma
“Christ our light is born to us, come let us adore him!” My dear confreres and friends, we began our vigil of prayer this evening with this simple refrain – a refrain simple to repeat, but filled nonetheless with meaning that pierces through the darkest shadows of our world to touch the deepest recesses of our hearts: Christ our light is born to us, come let us adore him! In repeating this simple refrain, we have given voice to the source of all our joy and hope: Christ – the light of the world – is born to us, to us, in the world of our day and in our particular circumstances. How right it is to come and adore him!
On this night we celebrate, of course, the coming of the Messiah at a specific and singular moment in history. The Incarnation of God’s Love in the infant Jesus born of the Virgin Mary in a stable at Bethlehem fulfilled the promises of God spoken through the prophets and brought salvation to the world. The birth of Jesus is an historic reality and our Christmas celebration is truly the celebration of the birthday of our Lord.
But along with remembering the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, it is equally important to remember and to celebrate that this coming of Jesus is not confined to a remote past and a culture and age completely foreign from our own. Rather, this night we celebrate the reality that Jesus Christ is born not only to the City of David, but even to places like the City of Shawnee as well. The Prince of Peace is born this night not only in a stable in Bethlehem, but also to our own dwelling – our monastery our home, our apartment – no matter how humble that abode might be. This night, the light of the newborn King shines forth as a beacon of salvation not only in the reign of Caesar and Herod, but also in the dark reigns of murderous tyrants and corrupt politicians of our own day. The angels proclaim the Good News of the birth of the Savior not only to the shepherds who watch flocks by night, but also to us as we keep watchful vigil over our own cares and responsibilities that at times weigh heavily upon us. Christ our light is born to us!
And yet, even after the coming of the Savior on this Christmas night, the effects of sin have continued to convulse our world down to our own time. All too many taskmasters still exploit the poor and too many must bear unjust yokes of oppression. Too many cloaks continue to be rolled in blood and too many boots of war trample the innocent underfoot. And all too often we ourselves are seized by fear and anxiety. Indeed, all of us struggle in one way or another with the darkness caused by violence and war, or by intolerance and prejudice, or by financial uncertainty, or by illness and disease, or by addiction to alcohol or gambling or pornography or food. We might feel as though we live in the “land of gloom” due to a spirit of depression or apathy, of selfishness or loneliness, of materialism or secularism, or even due to our own sinfulness. Yes, we know that much has yet to be accomplished before the peace of God’s Kingdom is experienced in its fullness.
That is why poetic words of the prophet Isaiah continue to stir us with hope and joy as we hear them again this night: “the people who walked in darkness / have seen a great light; / upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom / a light has shone.” These words stir us for we are a people who struggle to make our way through a land of gloom and times of darkness. In the darkness of our world, the voice of Isaiah speaks a message of comfort to us because Christ our light is born to us and we have come into his light to adore him. In the middle of this long and dark night, God brings us “abundant joy / and great rejoicing … For a child is born to us, a son is given us” the child who is “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever and Prince of Peace.” In this Christmas night, in the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of hope dawns upon us and his gift of salvation shines in the darkness of our lives.
For this reason, we come not only to adore and to marvel at the newborn babe of Bethlehem, but also to receive what this child has to give us. And what is this gift? Nothing less than the gift of hope for the transformation of our lives! St. Paul says as much in our second reading: “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.”
My brothers and sisters, this night Christ our light appears to us to bring us salvation. If we feel overwhelmed by the darkness of the times in which we live, or by the gloom of a difficult situation, or by the tyranny of personal sin, then we are invited to welcome the light of this newborn King to dispel the darkness. The vision of hope that he represents, and the grace of his coming, are as vital and marvelous today as ever! May we not be frozen by fear and anxious cares, but rather may we rejoice always in the blessed hope of this holy child and be transformed by the power of his divine love! Indeed, may our hearts always have the confidence to join the angels in their song of praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests”!