Winter is the darkest time. Three days ago was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The end of six months of ever-lengthening nights. Winter is when we spend more time indoors and so epidemics like COVID hit us most severely.
This is the coldest and gloomiest time of the year when we long for the warmth of family and friends and miss our absent loved ones the most — especially now when this pandemic continues to produce new variants.
Winter is the darkest time, yet it can also be the time of greatest hope. And it is the birth of hope that we celebrate today.
God promised through the prophet Isaiah that he would send his saving light into our dark, lost world, which is why all our Christmas Masses begin with a reading from Isaiah. In the vigil and midnight Masses, God promises to save us by his light: “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch” (vigil, Isaiah 62:1), and “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shown.” (midnight, Isaiah 9:1)
Then in the daytime Masses, God declares that this saving light will be a person, a Savior: “See the Lord proclaims to the ends of the earth: ‘Say to daughter Zion, your savior comes’” (dawn, Isaiah 62:11) and: “All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.” (midday, Isaiah 52:7)
We live in a dark world but now there is light. The title Emmanuel means “God is with us.” The name Jesus means “he saves.”
Even so the darkness will not give up. When the angels appeared to the shepherds, they cried out, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.” But amazingly, it was with words very similar to these that the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus 33 years later, five days before handing him over to die, five days before Satan’s apparent victory.
The child born today will struggle against the darkness his whole life, to the death — his own death. And that is how his saving, divine light will finally destroy, for once and for all, the power of the darkness, sin and death.
You and I have walked in the darkness of the COVID pandemic for almost two years now. COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down, and I want to thank you for how selflessly you have complied with all the protocols forced on us by this pandemic — and yet despite the more recent loosening of restrictions, we all know that we have not emerged from this darkness yet. Some of you are dealing with the long COVID, the long-term effects of the disease. Businesses have closed, and people have lost jobs and are struggling financially. There is so much uncertainty. Many people have been unable to return to work for lack of affordable childcare. Most of us know someone who has died or at least become dangerously ill.
And then there is vaccine injustice: fear-based vaccine hesitancy and unused vaccines in wealthy countries, and yet severe shortages of the vaccine for extremely vulnerable people in the third world, leading to the emergence of new variants. We are all vulnerable and so many people continue to walk in darkness.
And not just COVID. The same darkness prevails in general society. Divisive rhetoric and personal attacks have replaced the respectful discourse necessary for a cohesive society, such that even within families, we no longer listen to each other and so live in a land of gloom. We need a Savior. And today we have one. “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests!” (Isaiah 9:5)
Bright days do lie ahead. In Jesus, the reign of darkness has ended, and the adversities we face are simply opportunities to take up our cross and follow him, and thus share also in his victory.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily on Christmas.
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