Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas (Mass During the Day)
Good News That We Can See
Picture: cc neubda

Sisters and brothers, do you like to receive good news? How do you feel when you do? I think it’s probably safe to say that around the middle of this past week, many of us had the experience of receiving good news of a special kind. On Wednesday, after enduring many days of dark gloomy skies and miserably wet weather, we finally saw the sun come out. And it felt really good, didn’t it? It felt refreshing and invigorating. The brilliance and warmth of the sun’s rays lifted our mood and energized us. It made us want to go outdoors again. There was a rush of energy that was the result of receiving good news in a special way. Usually we enjoy good news first with our ears. But this sunshine after the storm was something we felt on our skin. This was good news we could see with our eyes.

Good news that we can see. This is also what we are celebrating today. Good news that we can see. This is what we find in our scriptures. In the first reading, the prophet speaks of a day in the future when the sentries of Jerusalem will raise a joyful shout, because they will be treated to a very moving scene. They will see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion. They will witness their friends and family members coming towards them from afar. They will see their loved ones finally returning home to Jerusalem, after having endured many difficult years in exile. And it will be a lovely and marvelous sight. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidings. Not only will this be good news that can be seen, like the sunshine we had this week, it will also be good news that will energize and empower them. Although they were feeling gloomy before, they will now be moved to break out together in song. They will be given the energy to work together to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem.

Receiving good news that we can see. This is also what Christmas is about. And in a far more wonderful way. As the second reading tells us, although in the past God may have spoken consoling words through the prophets, now in Christ, God has spoken to us through his Son. In Christ, God has given us glad tidings that we can see. Except that what God shares with us in Christ is far more marvelous than any ordinary piece of good news. For Christ is the Word through whom God created the universe. Christ is the rising Sun that shines upon us with the warmth and brilliance of God. When we look upon the face of the Son of God, we see the delighted smile of the Father. In Christ, we see the marvelous good news that ours is a God who loves us and is on our side. In Christ, we see the incredible vision of a God who refuses to let us go, a God who wants so much to be with us that God’s Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Even more than good news, what we celebrate at Christmas is the coming of the Good God whom we can see. And if the good news of ordinary sunlight can refresh us, how much more will the glory of the Good God be able to energize and empower us. As we are told in the gospel: to those who did accept him, Christ gave power to become children of God.

But here is where we encounter something that may at first seem surprising to us. Today, our gospel also tells us that when the Good God comes to bring us light and life, instead of welcoming him with open arms, many reject him. He came to his own, we are told, but his own people did not accept him. But how could this be possible? How could people be foolish enough to reject good news? After enduring many days of bad weather, for example, who among us would reject a day of glorious sunshine? It doesn’t make sense, does it?

And yet, perhaps I must be careful not to be too quick to judge others. People may have many different reasons for rejecting good news. I need to realize, for instance, that when I speak about how much I enjoyed the sunshine earlier this week, I am speaking only from the limited point of view of someone living in a part of Santa Barbara that was left relatively unscathed by the storm. Here, the rain didn’t do the same damage that it did elsewhere. I wonder if I would still be saying the same thing, and feeling the same way, if I were living in the foothill community of Highland, in San Bernardino County, for example, where many homes had to be evacuated because of landslides. I wonder if I’d still allow myself to be energized by the sunshine, if my car had been swept off the road by flood waters, or my home buried under several feet of mud. Even if the sunshine could still energize and invigorate me under such difficult circumstances, it couldn’t replace my car. Nor could it rebuild my house. If I had undergone such traumatic experiences as these, I’m not sure that I would still be willing to allow myself to see and to enjoy the sunshine. I’m not sure that I would allow the good news of the sun’s rays to motivate me to rebuild the ruins of my own life, let alone the lives of others.

Even if Christmas is all about receiving good news that we can see, even if Christmas has to do with enjoying the brilliance and warmth of the rising Sun, it remains true that this is not always an easy thing to do. Even after having spent the four weeks of Advent preparing ourselves to welcome the Lord, there may still be various situations in our lives that make it difficult for us to recognize Christ and to rejoice at his coming. Not unlike an unfortunate victim of a mudslide, various experiences of darkness may prevent us from smiling at the sun.

And yet, it is especially for people in unfortunate situations that Christ came to dwell among us. It is precisely upon people living in darkness of some sort – people who have been suffering the worst effects of the storms of life – that the rising Sun wishes to shine. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Instead, out of the darkness, we see the brilliance of the Lord’s glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son. And here it is worth recalling that, in the gospel of John, the Father’s glory is most clearly seen when Jesus is lifted up upon the cross. The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen put it well when he wrote:

The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the Person of Christ, however, it was His death that was first and His life that was last.… It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life and thus led to His death; it was rather that the Cross was first, and cast its shadow back to His birth.

In this Christmas season, then, if there are any among us still struggling with darkness, perhaps it is upon the glory of the Cross of Christ that we need to fix our eyes. For this too is part of the good news that we can see. This too is part of the Sunshine by which God wishes to energize us.

Sisters and brothers, on this glorious Christmas day, how might we rejoice more fully in the rising Sun? How might we better allow the Good News that we can see to energize us today?

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