First, I wish all of you a Blessed and Merry Christmas, and I thank you for attending the Midnight Mass, especially those brave enough to do so with little children in tow. During my boyhood in Pennsylvania, Mom and Dad would pile all six of us into the station wagon for Midnight Mass. We could see bright stars shining sharply in the cold black sky. We would crunch through ice and crusted snow to the church for a long Mass. Why, I complained, must we have Mass in the middle of the night? It’s too dark and cold! And my mother would explain that we go to Mass at Midnight because Jesus was born in the darkness, in the middle of the night. The Church celebrates Christmas Mass in the dark to underscore our liberation from darkness: we are no longer afraid of the dark. There is no darkness for men of faith because a child is given us, and we name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
True enough, the world is dark. The world without Christ is very dark. America celebrates Christmas this year with her flags at half-mast, watching the funerals of twenty schoolchildren, and wondering who will be next. Lurking in the backs of our minds is the fact that America kills thousands of children every day, with the support of the government and the approval of many Christian churches. The world is dark. Its movies are dark—I saw The Hobbit the other day and found it so much more dark and barbaric than Tolkien’s graceful tale of “there and back again.” So much of contemporary music, art, internet sites, news stories, clothing styles, and the rest of secular culture communicates gloom and desperation. We are a people addicted to anti-depressants, but it doesn’t permit us to evade the pervading fear and darkness.
No Longer Darkness
The world is dark, but God’s Kingdom is bright and beautiful. In the words of Isaiah, “To a people who walked in darkness, who dwelt in a land of gloom, a light has shown…. for a child is born to us.” The powers of this world fear and hate the child. They try to kill it, and they succeed in killing many children. But they cannot kill this Child.
St. Luke begins the Christmas story by acknowledging the powers of this world. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled….” Caesar had the power to command the “whole world,” even the Mother of God and God himself in her womb. They went obediently to Bethlehem to register with the government. No woman about to give birth should bounce on a donkey for three days, sleeping in strange places, exposed to cold and danger. And in the cold and dark she had her child, a child who would banish cold and dark forever. Cold is not cold for us, and dark is not dark, because God Is With Us.
Caesar will fail us. Governments that ignore the Law of God bring only darkness and suffering to their people. Our government used to acknowledge a power higher than itself, and we pray that it will again someday. We pray that the leaders of our Church will also submit to the will of God in everything, refusing to make bargains with the powers of this world. But no matter how dark it gets out there, our blessed hope shines brightly in here, close to Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist. No worldly power, no abuse of worldly power, and no cultural decline, can extinguish this light. No Caesar and no Herod can kill this baby. We must stay close to Him, our only hope. We must stay as close to Him as did his Holy Mother, and St. Joseph, and the Holy Shepherds and Kings from the East. We must be saints like them, because outside of Jesus, it is cold, and dark, and hopeless.
We join the Blessed Mother at the manger tonight, not at all mindful of the dark and the cold. We pledge ourselves this night to stay beside them, and to never let go. We can be merry this Christmas, and of good cheer every day, because today is born our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.