Seek the Lord by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr
The season of Advent, which we enter in December, is a period of watchful waiting in preparation for the Nativity of the Lord at Christmas. In this, as in so many things, the Church is counter-cultural. Some stores have been decorating for Christmas since before Halloween!
It is common during these weeks each year to hear references to “the real meaning of Christmas,” especially in movies and television programs. Depending on the production, this is variously depicted as being nice to everybody, praying for peace on earth, helping the less fortunate, or being with family and friends.
Those are all wonderful ways of celebrating Christmas, but none of them is the meaning of Christmas. One program that gets it right, however, is the perennially popular “Charlie Brown’s Christmas.” The dramatic high point of the show is when Linus stands in a spotlight and quotes from the Gospel of St. Luke. We will hear that same section of the Gospel proclaimed at Midnight Mass on Christmas:
“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Lk 2:8-14)
Linus concludes by saying, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” And so it is.
The Gospel according to St. John, unlike that of St. Luke and St. Matthew, does not give us a narrative of the Nativity. Instead, it tells the story in theological terms: “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
Earlier in John’s Gospel, the Evangelist refers to Christ as “the light of the human race” announced by John the Baptist: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (Jn 1:9). Jesus later refers to Himself as “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). That is what the lights on our Christmas trees and homes represent.
The world is in dire need of that light, for we live in very dark times. In the political life of our nation, divisions among Americans run deep. Our discourse is characterized by an appalling lack of civility that has reached new depths. And in the Church, we Catholics are angered and saddened by the evil actions of some members of the hierarchy. Many of us feel betrayed.
However, Christ has not betrayed us or abandoned us. No, our Christmas lights recall that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). Christ is the light to which we must turn in dark times, not to any human leader. He is the only true source of the peace, joy, and fullness of life that God wants to give us.
May that peace of Christ fill your home and your life this Christmas season. And if you have been away from the sacraments for several months or even several decades, please come home for Christmas.