During this past week the Associated Press released an article that read: “In the darkest days of the year, in a very dark time, there is a longing for illumination. And so, all around the world, the holiday lights go on — some of them humble, some of them spectacular, all of them a welcome respite from the dark.”
Whether it is the luster of Christmas trees in our homes or the gigantic displays in parks and streets across the globe the radiance casts a glow of cheer and hope. The bright lights offer us a brief but much needed break from the fears, the sadness, and the darkness caused by the gloom that surrounds us everywhere.
The gospel (John 1:1-18) for today’s Christmas liturgy today reminds us that Christ is the word of God in the world. John wrote: “What came to be through [the birth of Jesus of Nazareth] 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.”
Christians will find ways to unwrap the light of Christ burning inside them, to “enlighten everyone.” In the Letter to the Hebrews (1:1-16), the unknown author challenges us: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, God has spoken to us [my emphasis] through the Son .…” 1
This summons, to act for justice on this fragile planet was echoed at the Vatican Two Ecumenical Council regarding Christians and their momentous task in modern societies. They “are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society.” 2
Responsible citizens of heaven and earth have much to do in these United States. We are exasperated by myopic self-serving politicians, a new unconscionable military budget, reluctance to build back America, disagreements over climate control, unrelenting pandemics, and the sad fact, according to the Forbes magazine, that over 42.5 million families are trying to survive while living below the poverty level.
New Testament scholar, Gayle R. O’Day 3 stressed that today’s gospel promotes relationships among humanity. It is a call for human beings to emphasize blessings, peace, and justice. She wrote, [the gospel] is about the “purpose of Jesus’ ministry … to create a new family of God …. People who have no families, who come from destructive families, or who are alienated from their birth families” can become children of God.
The liturgical celebration of the Holy Family this weekend is a fitting complement to the Nativity narratives; and it raises more questions for us who are called to be luminaries in our communities.
Simply the word “family” cannot be defined in one way. Relational experiences are overriding the traditional — wife and husband with children — household. How do we greet and treat emerging familial associations?
In his commentary on defining family Dan H. observed that many families today are blended and extended, a mix of stepparents, half siblings, and couples without children. For some, family is made up of people who are not related to them. Rather than biological ties those relationships are rooted in loyalty, love, and shared responsibilities.
In the United States the number of single parents is on the rise. Same sex partners, married or not, are birthing, adopting, and raising children. Partnership without a marriage certificate is a rewarding relationship for more and more couples. Countless LGBTQI and transgendered persons find caring companionship with those they love. Immigrant families seek to be reunited.
The second reading for the Holy Family liturgy, from Colossians 3:12-21, is the switch that could turn on more light in the world. It begins with a list of virtues that the community should “put on” — heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another .…”
This letter has baptismal overtones. The charge to “put on” refers to the early Christian initiation practice of disrobing before entering the water and then dressing with new clothing after being baptized. To be baptized is not about saving one’s soul. It is about joining a community that practices the social gospel in the public square.
All of us who are baptized Christians are members of God’s holy family. This is not an exclusive club. It extends beyond denominational roots. In communion with other religious and non religious members of the human family Christians are humble and loving luminaries casting light on their respective communities.
As we ponder familiar biblical stories this holiday weekend, the James Webb telescope will be launched into space. It is designed to capture the light of some of the first galaxies that coalesced after the “Big Bang.” It will explore a wide range of questions to help us understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.
Nothing stays the same. Scientific advancements and our life experiences tell us that Christ is always being born and reborn and is constantly emerging in new electrifying ways throughout the cosmos and our lives. The radiance of Christ will continue to shine as long as we keep the lights on.
1 In another letter Paul writes to the Philippians 2:15 and states that the believers [in Christ] are luminaries in the world.
2 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965, no. 43
3 O’Day, Gayle, “The Gospel of John” in Women’s Bible Commentary. C. Newsome, S. Ringe, J. Lapsley (editors), Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 517 ff.