The child of Bethlehem is our hope

This homily for Christmas was preached in 2008

As Germany, France, and Russia mobilized for war, long before most of us were born, in August of 1914, the British Foreign Minster is said to have remarked, “The lights are going out all over Europe.”

The lights are going out all over our world. It may seem that way to us now. In the last four months we have seen the financial markets crash so that a portfolio worth $100,000 in September is now worth $60,000. Our economy is moving into the most severe recession since the Great Depression, an event that many of us in this room remember only too well. The auto industry in Detroit is teetering on collapse. War still rages in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lights are going out all over our world.

Closer to home, many of us struggle each day with our health, some of us are in daily if not constant pain. Some of us suffer from incurable diseases where even the medicine makes us sick. Many of us have lost children, brothers and sisters, spouses, whom we continue to mourn. We have children or grandchildren whose marriages are unhappy. Truly our world can seem to be a dark, forbidding place.

And yet our Gospel today says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. In him was life and the life was the light of all people. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not put it out.” This is what we are celebrating today, a light that shines amid all of the darkness of our world, a light that cannot be extinguished or snuffed out.

It might seem to us that our hope should rest in a light that is a blazing fire, one that reflects the glory of God, his power and majesty, his unfathomable wisdom. But we would be mistaken. For the light that we celebrate today is no more than a spark, no more than a flicker, and yet our hope is in this small flame that defeats all fear, all anxiety, all darkness. For our hope is in the most fragile, vulnerable, and helpless of God’s creatures, a newborn infant. We should not be surprised by this. Anyone who has ever held a newborn baby is overcome with hope, for we see in an infant endless opportunities, a limitless future, and the possibility to be or become anything. Infants give us hope; they are our “Yes” to life.

Yet the child of Bethlehem, whom we celebrate today, not only gives us hope, he is our hope. In his fragility we find our strength, in his vulnerability we find our courage and determination to persevere and go on, in his helplessness we find the grace and help we need to make our way to God. As we stand before his crib, we find ourselves touched by the warmth of his light, transformed by the purity of his light, made new by the innocence of his love for us. Not only will we become lights ourselves, lights by which others can see this Child. In the light of the Christ Child we will be able to make our way back to the God who is light himself, who burns with a love that illumines even the darkest and most secret recesses of our hearts.

So today then we rejoice in the birth of our Savior, the Word made flesh who has pitched his tent among us as a helpless Child, that Light so pure that no darkness can ever overpower him or us who believe.