Bishop emeritus

TV Mass Homily 12/22/2019

Today we lit the last of the Advent candles. Our wait for the coming of the Lord is almost over. Christmas Day is only three days away. Whether Christ is with us on that day and the days that follow depends on whether we see the light of Christ in the window of our hearts. We desperately need the one who came and is to come again to guide and console us through the storms of life. We need, the Light of the World.

A few years ago Catholic Digest told of a Native American on a reservation here in South Dakota who in the middle of a winter blizzard had to go out for wood. He had tied ropes from the house to the wood pile before the storm, but on his way back he stumbled toward the open prairie and likely death. Confused for direction, he turned in circles and then saw a light. His wife had placed a kerosene lamp in the only window of their house. He later wrote: “It was hard to see through all the snow – kind of shimmering light that seemed to be dancing. The woman hung it there for me to see in case I got lost. It saved my life, that light. All that was between me and the big dark.”

When Advent begins it is dark. One by one the candles are lighted and the light becomes brighter, the light of the world comes closer. God the Father sent that light, His Son, for us, because we were lost; to redeem us and to remain with us in case we become lost again. To avoid falling out into the big dark of the deceptive and dangerous secular world, we need to see the light of Christ in the window of our hearts. That light is reflected in the symbols of candles and stars. But to see in a way that reassures and uplifts, we must in faith accept the reality that God the Father did send the Light and that He remains with us in sacrament and Church beginning in Bethlehem.

But do we really believe it? I was interviewed once by a reporter and was asked whether I agreed with the statement that Christianity has served its purpose and will pass away. That seems to be the view of many in the Western world. Some cannot believe the Christmas story, some will not believe. There are so-called Christian scholars, even some Church leaders, who debunk the reality of the virgin birth despite the clarity of Scripture and Tradition, and so they rewrite the script.

It reminds me of the Christmas pageant in which the little boy playing Joseph and the little girl playing Mary came to the inn and knocked. The innkeeper came and announced, “There is no room in the inn.” Mary paused, turned to Joseph and said, “I thought I told you to make reservations.” We cannot change the story because it seems hard, even miraculous.

There is a song that goes, ‘Christmas is for children, it’s for children people say.’ For many Christmas is about make believe. There is much fantasy in how Christmas is celebrated in our culture; much of it joyful and fun. But the story as incredible as it may sound is true. Also true is that we are all children, children of God.

The fact is that Scripture and Tradition affirm that God’s son was born in a stable among the animals in the remote town of Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary betrothed to a just man named Joseph. They both prayerfully responded to the startling messages they received – for Mary by the visit of the angel Gabriel and for Joseph in a dream. They responded by living their lives as God asked them to do. Let it be done to us as God wills is the lesson they model for us..

Today’s Gospel reading account of our Savior’s birth teaches that Christ was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading: Jesus is of the house of David since Joseph is of the House of David. Mary is the virgin who gave birth according to the prophecy. The child’s conception without the intervention of man was miraculous. This child truly was destined to be the light of the world, Emmanuel, God with us.

There is another true story that catches for me the theme of this season. An old man sat watching the sea ebb and flow, the crash and splatter of the waves. He had spent most of his life as a lighthouse keeper until technology turned out the light and him with it. He loved telling stories of the sea, of ships caught in storms, threatened by hidden rocks and more, stories in which the light of the house was always the hero.

“You see’, he said, ‘my mother always left a light in the window. It was there when I was a boy in Maine coming home from school in the wintertime and the snow was blowing horizontal. When I was away in the service, fighting overseas, she kept it burning still, like some kind of altar light to show the way back home. Later, when my wife died so sudden, and I was thinking about walking out there into the sea and be taken by it to wherever she might be, the memory of that light stopped me. A person needs a light in the window, something to show that he’s still expected, that someone is waiting for him. Because not being expected is about the worst thing there is, being left to yourself in the storm. There’s got to be a light somewhere or you’re lost.”

In Catholic Churches there is always a candle burning near the tabernacle to help light our way to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament which points us to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We need never be out in the big dark or alone in the storms. And when we humbly and worthily receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we can become lights of Christ ourselves. Someone once remarked that “there are two ways of spreading the light: to be a candle or the mirror that reflects that light. We cannot be the Light of the world ourselves, only Christ can be, but we can reflect His love and mercy in what we say and do, in how we relate to one another.

As we approach Christmas this week, as we deal with the pressures of the celebration and the skepticism of the faith, may we reflect the Light of Christ confident that no one who believes in Him need ever feel lost or alone again because he was born in Bethlehem and His light shines every day. If only we see it.

Merry Christmas and may the light of Christ shine brightly in your hearts this Christmas day and all the days to follow.