In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we all notice the lights.
House after house. Shopping malls and offices.
Everyone puts up lights.
On the radio I heard about an extravaganza in New Jersey
featuring “synchronized lights, lasers, fog machines,
strobe lights, 20-foot flames.”
And, of course, pounding music as the soundtrack! It’s all lots of fun.
Some of it is marketing; not all.
But does it have much to do with Christmas?
There are two things at work worth contemplating.
First, there is something here
that has little to do with the intellect or a conscious act of faith.
When I was in the seminary,
I spent a year as an intern at a parish up north.
And while there, I spent a lot of time
teaching lessons to children of various ages.
One time, the principal asked me
to explain our beliefs about Mary
to a group of first-graders.
So picture that: I’m a theology student--no kids!
And I’m trying to explain the Virgin Birth to 6 year olds.
How do I do that?
Here’s what I did:
I created a skit.
One child was Mary;
one child was Gabriel,
coming to tell her
that God wanted her to give birth to Jesus.
And one child was supposed to be Jesus,
waiting to see what Mary would do.
With a lot of coaching, I had Gabriel say his few lines,
and Mary gave her “Yes, I’ll help with God’s plan!”
But the best part--that involved no lines at all--
was what the child playing Jesus did.
He was told to react--without words.
And that 6-year-old jumped and jumped for joy!
The mature reflection and grasp of Faith would come later.
But long before that there is a profound experience of joy.
Second, there’s something curious:
lots of people celebrate Christmas,
without much conscious attachment to the Faith.
As Christians, we know it’s more than a baby;
The baby became a man;
and the shadow of the Cross was always there.
For folks who don’t observe the faith,
it’s not hard to skip over Good Friday;
yet not too many people skip Christmas.
They put up the lights, even if, for them, it’s not about His Light.
So what’s going on?
Is it possible there’s something deep at work?
Of course there is--that’s obvious.
What’s not so obvious--at least to everyone--is whether it’s God.
You see, the act of Faith isn’t that easy.
The problem is plain: if there is a God,
why does He show up on this Day,
when there are plenty of other days he seems absent?
I. Don’t. Know.
But putting out the lights doesn’t seem to be an answer.
And if we say,
“because there’s so much evil, I can’t see how there can be a God”--
Let’s take that one more step:
“Therefore, there is no God”--
but you still have evil.
How has giving up on God helped?
It’s just putting out the lights.
I don’t know why God waits--but I know he’s waited for me.
I’m an ordinary man, not great either in virtue or vice--
but there are things I needed him to forgive,
and he waited for me to ask.
I have taken a lot wrong roads--he always offered a way;
and he waited patiently for me to take it.
And when I was ready, he was waiting, in a church in Virginia,
in a priest hearing confessions.
I thought: how long would it take,
to go to confession after ten years?
Not so long; no so bad! Not hard at all!
I say that, as the one--then--seeking to be reconciled with my Faith;
And I say it now, as a priest
who gives God’s response of forgiveness.
It’s not hard at all!
The hardest thing was my head! And my pride.
There is great darkness at work in the world.
It is horrible and yet it draws. I don’t know why.
But I can’t see how giving up on the light of Christ helps.