Christmas Day 2009
Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
Rt. Rev. Lawrence Stasyszen, O.S.B.
St. Gregory’s Abbey: Shawnee, Oklahoma
My brothers and sisters in Christ, our Newborn King, Merry Christmas! What joy must fill our hearts this day as we celebrate the infinite love that God has for us, a love so great that God has become one with us in the Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus Christ!
This week holds a very special place in my heart, and I look forward to it more and more each year. Yes, Christmas is the main reason why I await this week with such eagerness. But, I must confess, it is not the only reason. You see, I am one of those persons who struggles with SAD – not with being sad – but with SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you are not familiar with this health issue, those who struggle with it are very sensitive to light. More accurately, we are very sensitive to the lack of light, especially to a lack of sunlight. With the short days, long nights and frequently overcast skies of the winter months, we who are affected by SAD can experience everything from moodiness and irritability to somewhat debilitating depression. Without enough sunlight, our lives get out of whack. Some lack their normal energy; some lack creativity; some lack motivation; some lack the ability to concentrate; some become forgetful; some even lose a sense of purpose and reason for living.
SAD can be a very serious condition and at times medication is needed. At any rate, SAD seems to affect me more and more the older I get. And so, I look forward to this week in the calendar with growing anticipation not only because of Christmas, but because as of December 22 we in the northern hemisphere have turned a corner and our days once again are starting to get longer. A little more light goes a long way to getting me back to normal.
But as serious as Season Affective Disorder can be, there is another affliction brought on by darkness that is much more serious. In fact, if it is not checked, this other condition inevitably proves to be deadly. Even when its symptoms do not appear obvious at first, or even when its effects seem inconsequential for some time, the condition eventually sneaks up folks, and throws them out of whack. This illness brought on by darkness prevents those afflicted by it from experiencing the gift of life as God intended it to be experienced. The darkness I speak of is not, of course, darkness brought on by long winter nights or dreary overcast skies, and the illness it brings is not merely a physical or mental condition, but one that touches the soul as well. The darkness that brings on such a truly deadly condition is the darkness of sin, and every one of us present is susceptible to its effects in our lives.
The darkness of sin and its debilitating consequences have been a plague upon humanity since our first parents, Adam and Eve, made a single fateful decision to act outside God’s will for their lives. Its germ is so pervasive that touches us before our birth, and it spreads with choices that we make even in the most mundane and seemingly inconsequential circumstances. The contagion of sin has manifested itself in every age in everything from petty gossip, resentment, jealousy and spite, to greed, slavery, poverty and war. In its most chronic manifestation, the darkness of sin leads us to despair and lose hope that something better awaits us, our community and our world.
But there is good news to share, for the cure for sin and the debilitation and death it brings is known. What’s more, access to this cure does not depend upon debates in Congress, the will of insurance underwriters or our ability to pay, but has been made accessible to all with the dawning of this day. Today we hear once again the “glad tidings [and] good news, announcing salvation” that a Savior is born to us who is “the refulgence of [the Father’s] glory, the very imprint of [God’s] being.” Today, the darkness of sin is shattered by the bright light of Christ, and the sadness and despair that held humanity in its contagious grip are broken by the dawn of the day of salvation.
My brothers and sisters, this is the true meaning of Christmas, and it is the most important cause for our joy today. Certainly, Christmas means many things that are good – the gathering of family and friends, the spirit of giving and generosity, and the innocent faith of children. But what Christmas truly means is captured so beautifully and profoundly in the opening words of the Gospel of John that we hear proclaimed each Christmas day: “the Word became flesh / and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, / the glory of the Father’s only Son, / full of grace and truth.” Jesus Christ, the infant babe born of Mary in the stable at Bethlehem, is that Word, and “All things came to be through him … [and] What came to be through him was life, / and this life was the light of the human race; / the light shines in the darkness, / and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Even though the darkness of sin at times seems so pervasive in our world or in our individual lives, the message of this Christmas day is that the light of salvation still shines brightly in Christ to dispel the darkness of sins deadly contagion and to bring the full experience of life. Indeed, as our gospel today assures us, those accept this light of God’s Word-Made-Flesh are given the “power to become children of God” full of “grace and truth.”
My brothers and sisters, this is the invitation and the gift extended to us on this glorious, bright Christmas day. We need no longer be trapped in the sadness, despair and death of sin’s darkness, for today we bask in the light of salvation’s dawn. May we adore the Lord of salvation, the Physician who heals all sin and division, and may we bask in the refulgence of his abundant light! A holy day has dawned upon us – a great light has come upon the earth. Let us rejoice and be glad, as children of the light. Alleluia, alleluia!