Prepare to be great

Homily of the month

The feast of light

Christmas is the feast of light. Sometimes in all the chaos, we miss the fact that all the things we do at Christmas time—the tree, lights, gifts, and the food we share, are symbols of the light, writes Catherine Collins in this month's featured homily.

PREPARE THE WORD's library includes insightful sample homilies for funerals, sacraments, holy and feast days, and special occasions. We regularly add new homilies to the mix. Feel free to submit a homily you've written or from someone on your parish preaching team that you want to offer for consideration. Send homilies to mail@preparetheword.com.

Occasion: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas): Mass at Midnight
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

"The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small."

How many times have you read that to children in the past few weeks? Then even after reading the poem several times, they still wanted to see the movie. Hidden here in the rhyme and rhythm is a little spiritual gem.

The shepherds' hearts were not too small, nor were their sandals, indeed if they had any sandals at all. In the middle of the night, the shepherds saw the light and heard the voice. It takes a simple, humble heart to see the light, to recognize the voice of the angel. And once we see the light in the darkness or hear the voice of the angel, we had better have comfortable shoes because we are compelled to take action.

At Christmas time the angel is the symbol of spiritual insight. The gospel stories around the birth of Christ are full of angels. After the visit from an angel, Mary went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The shepherds dropped everything and went to find the child. Joseph packed his bags, took Mary and the baby, and left for Egypt in the middle of the night. These people are on the move! The angels in these stories don't give any definite answers, maps, or timetables. Mary must have wondered what Gabriel meant when he said that her son would receive the throne of David. The shepherds didn't get an address. How many mangers did they check before they found the Christ child? Joseph was simply told to go and stay there until he was told it was safe to return.

There is still some darkness; they don't have all the answers, but they go anyway. The darkness is necessary to appreciate the light. We can't see the stars in the daytime. We don't light a candle to enhance the noonday sun. But we love the glow of candlelight in a darkened room. We can see a bit more but not everything. That's the way it is with spiritual insight; it comes in the darkness in bits and pieces.

There is still some darkness; they don't have all the answers, but they go anyway. The darkness is necessary to appreciate the light. We can't see the stars in the daytime. We don't light a candle to enhance the noonday sun. But we love the glow of candlelight in a darkened room. We can see a bit more but not everything. That's the way it is with spiritual insight; it comes in the darkness in bits and pieces.

Christmas is the feast of light. It's the mystery of the incarnation: God's self-gift, God's presence deep within us. But the feast of Christmas has been so absorbed by our culture that it lingers in the darkness. Sometimes in all the chaos, we miss the fact that all the things we do at Christmas timethe tree, lights, gifts, and the food we share, are symbols of the light. As followers of Christ in the 21st century, we remember the words of Jesus: "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others." We often struggle to be that light in our society. So here's a story.

Many years ago I saw a play called Oh! What a Lovely War, which told the story of the horrors of World War I. The play was a series of skits developed from documents and memoirs. Today I remember only this scene. As darkness fell on a battlefield of Europe on Christmas Eve, 1914, the guns became silent. In the trenches, a lone voice began singing "Silent Night." Then another voice joined in, and slowly, one by one it rose to a chorus with enemies all singing together. Then troops from both sides came out to greet one another. They ate together on Christmas Day, sharing food and gifts, and as evening fell, they said good-bye to one another and returned to their trenches. On December 26, it was war as usual.

In the darkest hour these men experienced a sense of oneness, unity, communion. What's real here? On one hand the horror, pain, and bloodshed and on the other a brotherhood. Both are real, but at our deepest level, we are one in Christ Jesus. Christmas, the feast of light, comes once a year and calls us to explore that identity.

Even the Grinch ended up celebrating Christmas, carving the Christmas roast beast. So celebrate Christmas, and throughout the year pray for an open heart and keep a good pair of shoes handy. You never know where or when the light of Christ will call you.