A reflection on the readings for Christmas Eve: Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7; and Luke 2:1-20
A young woman reflects back on her life and ponders the course it has taken. She is the first born child to a young father and an even younger mother, both still teenagers. More children are born into this small family, but she remains the only daughter. Eventually the parent’s divorce and the mother’s health declines. Fragile to begin with, the mother falls into a deep depression, one that would last the rest of her life.
The daughter, the primary character of this story, works to hold the family together. She tends to her younger siblings and her mother. She works her way through college and finds a job. Eventually the brothers are raised and the mother is settled safely in place where she cannot harm herself. The woman marries and begins a family of her own. It is hard work to overcome the scars of her difficult childhood and learn to love, to trust, and to be a healthy person. As a mother, a wife, and a working woman, she applies extra effort to understand the challenges she faced, seeking counseling to deepen her self-awareness and other-awareness. Every day felt heavy, weighted with worry that she would not be able to care for herself, her children, and her marriage, let alone her career.
She is the new woman – told by society that she can have it all – but with no role models to show her the way, she has to make it up as she goes along. Whenever she feels untethered she looks for anchors to help her forge a grounded path. Of the many avenues she takes, her faith formation is the most vital. Over time, as she intentionally lives a life of faith, she comes to recognize a light shining into the darkness of her life. This light is hope. This light is God. This light is the prince of peace. This light is Emanuel. This light is love. This light is the Christ child literally being born in and through her as God’s pure love.
The struggles of her life, the darkness that has, for decades, defined who she is, has birthed in her new insight into her life. She remembers distinctly the first time in her life that she felt the peace of Christ resonating in her. She was driving her car and came to recognize just how profoundly different she felt. Yes, all of the circumstances of her life were exactly the same – none of the challenges had disappeared. But she felt different. She was at peace. Every muscle and bone in her body felt this sense of peace. Instead of holding on tight inside of her, as if that tight grip was the very act that would literally hold her together, she found that she was knit together with peace and love. Her shoulders relaxed, her breath was deep and steady, her mind was clear, she was at peace.
This is a story of a seemingly small, yet very existential manifestation of God’s presence in our lives, of God working in and through us. God doesn’t work like a magician changing the circumstances of our lives – God honors the importance of freewill in our lives and in all of creation. Sometimes this freewill manifests as chaos. In biology we learn that a certain amount of chaos is crucial to the survival of creation. Without chaos, without the unsteady change that chaos evokes, creation and all created beings, would stagnate and die. Chaos is generative. It’s a paradox that chaos brings new life, creation.
And so, the darkness of our lives is not necessarily a bad thing. Challenging yes, but out of the darkness new life is born. Darkness is where creation begins, new life emerges. The light of Christ comes into us. The light of Christ, God’s pure love, works from the inside out. Spiritual transformation is interior work that becomes exterior action.
On this most holy of nights we celebrate the reality that God is with us. In the mystery that is God, God has chosen to dwell in and within all creation, and most particularly in human life. This is our Christian story, of God active in the world through the birth of Jesus. It is story that reminds us that how we live our lives, as people of faith, is an invitation to participate in the revelation of God in the world. This is particularly so when we choose to live with compassion, kindness, gentleness, and love toward all.
The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ assure us that God is present in every aspect of our lives. God is present at our birth. God is present in our lives. God is present and caring in our suffering. God is with the dying. And God is working through the pain and brokenness of this world to bring forth new life.
When the world is dark, God searches for a way to fill us with light, to work on us from the inside out, so that the light of our lives reveals the light of the world. Darkness is the womb that gives birth to hope, for Emmanuel is with us, the Christ child is born anew this night.
In this Christmas season may you know God’s abiding presence in your life. God’s presence may be only a tiny glimmer of light, and yet, it will give birth to a renewed sense of hope. And from that sense of hope will come peace, love, and joy. May these be the core of your identity, like a burning flame reflecting out into the world may you be a God-given ray of hope, peace, love, and joy. My your light be the light of Christ, healing the broken places of this world. May the flame of God’s presence sustain you all the days of your life.
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