The Light has Come!
by Abbot Joseph
[You can read this at Word Incarnate or continue below.]
Christ is born! Let us “rejoice exceedingly with great joy” as did the Magi when they saw the star over the place where the Child lay. For we have already received—those of us who were here at the vigil Liturgy—the message of the Angel from Heaven who brought us tidings of great joy, that a Savior is born unto us. And this is our joy today—not that we think the Son of God has again in our time been born as a baby, but that because He did so 2000 years ago, we have cause for perpetual joy. For the incarnation of God means our salvation, our hope for eternal life, and this message never grows old—it has to be the center of our lives every day until we finally attain its complete fulfillment in the glory of Heaven.
As I pondered some time ago how best to present this mystery of God breaking into our poor and sinful world, I thought of the star that the Magi saw—not so much as a guide to the location of the Child, but as a light penetrating the deep darkness of the night, a light which is but a metaphor for the true Light, Christ our God, who was born into this dark world in Bethlehem so many years ago. As the days passed before Christmas, various newsletters and greetings came in with their own reflections on the mysteries of Advent and Christmas. I noticed that the majority of them were talking about the Light coming into the darkness of this world. My first thought was: “Hey, they’re stealing my homily theme!” My second thought, which was a much better one, was: “This must be something that the Holy Spirit is telling the churches, and we all had better listen.” Several individual letters and cards had also come in, with people saying: these times are dark. So I think this is the moment to welcome the Light of Christ our Savior.
St John, more than the other evangelists, speaks of Christ as the Light, and he does so right in the beginning of his Gospel, in the profound Prologue. He speaks of Jesus, upon his coming into the world, as the “true light that enlightens everyone.” Why did he have to say true light? Well, it should be obvious that there is such a thing as false light, or that which presents itself as light but is nothing more than satan in disguise, as St Paul wrote (2Cor. 11:14). Perhaps today more than ever there are spiritual counterfeits that try to lead us away from the True Light. You hear a lot of talk from “new age” speakers and writers about “the light,” but you hear very little about Jesus, and nothing ever about the Cross or the Holy Eucharist, or other essential things He has revealed for our salvation. This tells us right away that their light is a false light, or rather nothing more than spiritual darkness disguised with the terminology of light. In his first Epistle St John makes it clear that whoever does not accept the full reality of the Incarnation—the eternal Son of God becoming true man for our salvation—has the spirit of antichrist (4:1-3), which can be another way of saying the devil in disguise.
So Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is the True Light who came into the world, who was born in Bethlehem and worshiped by shepherds and wise men. He alone can conquer the darkness of sin and falsehood and all manner of evil in this world. In the icon of the Nativity, the interior of the cave is black. This is not merely for the sake of contrast with the brighter colors of the icon. It symbolizes the darkness of this world into which Christ was born. On the icon, a light from Heaven penetrates this darkness, and there we see the Christ Child.
St John says in his Gospel that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. There’s only one way for the darkness to advance and get stronger in this world, and that is if the light diminishes. Darkness, whether material or spiritual, has no substance of its own. If you want to darken a room, you don’t add more darkness to it; you dim or extinguish the light. Darkness can only increase to the extent that light decreases. This means that if these are indeed dark times, and the ominous cloud of still darker times hangs over us, it is solely because the presence of light has diminished.
Now Christ the Light as such will never know any weakening of strength or intensity. For the Apostle says that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1Jn. 1:5). None. At all. Which means that in Himself there isn’t the slightest diminishment of Light, in all its splendor of truth and beauty and goodness and love. But He has handed over a great responsibility to his Church, and hence to us as individual members. If the Church is not faithfully carrying the torch of Christ, as it were, then by default the powers of darkness will grow stronger and invade territory that doesn’t belong to them. Let us hear two complementary teachings of Jesus about the light, which support what I’m saying here. First, He says of Himself: “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). But then He looks at us and says: “You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14). Of course, we could not be the light if He were not first the Light and if He did not communicate this grace to us. But the fact is, He has given us a mission and He expects us to bring his light to the world, to “walk in the light as he is in the light” (1Jn. 1:7). St Paul agrees when he exhorts us: “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16).
The only way we can be sure that we are in the True Light is if we are in a personal relationship of faith and love with our Lord Jesus Christ, and the clearest proof of this (mere words are insufficient) is if we are doing the will of his Father in all things. Another sign, which is a fruit of believing in Jesus and doing the Father’s will is, as St John again tells us, our love for one another. He writes: “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in the light… But he who hates his brother is in the darkness… and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1Jn. 1:9-11).
So now I’m going to tell you to do something that I’ve never told anyone to do: Take the advice of King Herod. I hasten to qualify this, so you don’t think I’ve suddenly fallen into the darkness. There is only one thing Herod ever said that is worth doing, and even though his intentions were evil in this case as well, God meant it for good. He said to the Magi: “Go and search diligently for the Child.” This is what we have to do, starting on this blessed feast of Christmas. Search diligently for the Child, make it your life’s quest to find the Savior, to meet Him personally, to embrace Him within your hearts, to follow Him all the days of your life—even unto the Cross—and thus to enter with Him into the glory of his heavenly Paradise.
For this we have to pray much, meditate upon the Holy Scriptures, receive the sacraments, and set our hearts and minds on things of Heaven, as the Apostle counsels (Col. 3:1-4). But there is still more. To diligently seek the Child is to seek to be like the Child. Jesus told us on several occasions that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the childlike, that is, those who humble themselves and break their pride—which is the scourge of all who have lost the innocence of spiritual childhood—and who trust in God as a loving Father: without guile, without calculation, without suspicion, without fear. In order to present their gifts to the Child, the Magi—who belonged to an elite and highly honored class of men—had to lower themselves. They prostrated before Him, the Gospel says. No one who is proud will ever find the Child, because such a one will never see Him! He doesn’t lower himself enough to recognize Him in the poor and lowly and small. Such a one walks not in the light but is lost in the darkness, even though he knows it not.
The Light has come into the world, says St John, but men loved darkness rather than light. They don’t come near the Light because they don’t want to be exposed as sinners (Jn. 3:19-20). But that is precisely why we must come to the Light! St John tells us in another place what happens when sinners come to the Light: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1Jn. 1:7). It is right to admit that we are sinners, for the Apostle goes on to say that if we say we have no sin, we are liars and are deceiving ourselves. So sinners shouldn’t fear to come to the Light but must come, so that the Precious Blood of Jesus can cleanse them from all sin.
The Light has come but we must have eyes to see. For the Light of Christ is a spiritual light. We were talking the other day about how, when the sun came out and started melting the snow that had recently fallen, it had caught some of the water droplets just right, so that they acted as prisms and burst forth momentarily in all the colors of the spectrum. Such things happen all around us, but if we aren’t looking or paying attention, we won’t see them. Likewise, the brilliant beauty of the Light of Jesus is present, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed by those who are looking for Him. And those who seek Him will find Him.
So Jesus invites us to come to Him, come to the Light, the only True Light, not merely one among many counterfeits in the world today. The Angel of the Lord directed the shepherds to Him, so in this way God invited the chosen people to accept their Messiah. God sent a star to the pagans (who did not know any better at the time), and in this way He called all the Gentiles to believe and worship the true God.
Let us worship Him as well and come to the Light, knowing that the darkness can never approach if the Light is shining brightly. By the power of the Word of God, that is, the Incarnate Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, we can be instrumental in shining his Light in this darkening world. Let us resolve to be bearers of the Light of Jesus Christ. All it takes for the darkness to envelop us is for us not to shine with the divine Light. Therefore search diligently for the Child, worship Him, follow Him, and rejoice with exceeding joy, for the Light has come into the world!