Cycle A | Christmas | Week: CHRISTMAS
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
To underscore the uncertainties that come with darkness, an African proverb notes that the night gave the lion horns (instead of ears). More disturbingly, another African proverb notes that darkness and evil co-exist. Thus, the First Reading of our Christmas Midnight Mass aptly regards the birth of Jesus as the dawn of light – a very powerful imagery! Light prevents crime. Light guides us on our way. Light warms and comforts. Light supports life and promotes growth; plants always gravitate towards light to get life.
The Bible used imageries of light to indicate God’s presence as revealed at the Burning Bush in the Book of Genesis and with the Pillar of Fire in the Book of Exodus. Psalm 27 declares: “The Lord is my light and my salvation!” The birth of Jesus brought light into a dark world. He came at a time when the people of God were mired in socio-political and spiritual darkness: centuries of oppressive foreign rule and compromised religion.
In anticipation of his birth, the Prophet Isaiah (in our First Reading) therefore aptly reckons that “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.” Jesus came as the Light that illuminates; the Light that clarifies; the Light that reveals the truth. He came to reveal the face of the true God (Colossians 1:15). God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness (1 John 1:5).
Jesus declared unequivocally in his own words: “I am the Light of the world”. And he makes an even more audacious claim: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). That is where you and I come in as Christians; people who follow Christ. We are called, not only to follow this light, but to bear and reflect it wherever we are.
Speaking to his followers, Jesus directly charged them: “You are the light of the world. You are like a city on the hilltop that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). It is therefore not just enough to profess the light as we do in the routine recitation of the creed every Sunday, “God from God, Light from Light” not even knowing what we are talking about. As bearers of this light, Christians (you and I) have a decisive role to play in combating the darkness that pervades the nooks and crannies of our world today; the oppressive systems and ideologies; the raging violence and wars; the social inequality and injustice.
Why should the gap between the rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots continue to widen? Why is poverty still an issue in a world where there is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed? Why is murder on the increase among young people? Why are the vulnerable victimised; the unborn, the minority, the elderly, the disabled? Why is family violence on the increase? Why is drug addiction holding many captive? Why is homelessness and hunger still an issue today even in the developed world. These are all indicators of overwhelming darkness in our world.
The prophet Isaiah charges us to “Arise and shine for our Light has come.” How much are we doing as individual Christians and as a Church to reflect the light of Christ so as to dispel the pervading darkness in our world? In his short period of public ministry, Jesus practically set the world on fire with his light, championing the cause of justice and peace, calling out oppressive systems and ideologies and liberating people both materially and spiritually.
It wasn’t easy for him because darkness always resists the Light. In fact, right from his birth, there was an attempt to extinguish the Light with the desperate King Herod ordering the extermination of all newly born males. Yet, the Light prevailed over that darkness. Even when they killed him in an attempt to extinguish the Light, it took only three days for the light to erupt even more powerfully.
Over time, the forces of darkness have kept hounding the many prophetic voices that bear this light with some becoming victorious martyrs. We think of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jnr, Pope John Paul II, who stood up against unjust and oppressive systems. Those systems have crumbled while their names still ring a bell, assuring us that the Light cannot be quenched because it is the Light of Christ, the light of God.
Jesus will feel so betrayed that the light is being extinguished in our world today through the selfishness and greed of some that brings untold hardship and misery on many. The light is being extinguished in the hypocrisy that sees us provide the arms for war while leading humanitarian interventions in their aftermath. The light is being extinguished through the dictatorship of relativism; nothing is absolute anymore.
The light is being extinguished in the political correctness that has peaked in man’s rebellion to play God rather than be good stewards of creation. It takes the form of self-invention: “I decide the meaning of my life.” “I decide the purpose of my body.” “If my body doesn’t make me happy, I change it.” “It is my choice to decide what to do with my pregnancy.” “If my gender doesn’t suit me, I’ll adjust it.” “In fact, I can decide the meaning of the universe itself.” Jesus charged us in Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven”.