Last weekend, I dashed into a store to buy a Christmas card for friends (a greeting also intended as a belated note of gratitude for their Thanksgiving hospitality, I must admit). As I scanned the images of Santas, snowmen, reindeer and elves, my spirits sank: there was not one card depicting a Nativity scene – no manger, no Madonna, no Messiah. The sole item marked “religious” was apparently labeled as such because it included the word “blessing” in its otherwise bland message.
I felt the same frustration a few days later while editing a short video at the office. Every online search for stock images of Christmas yielded the same result – gift-wrapped boxes, trimmed trees, festive lights and family gatherings, but zero sign of the holiday’s central figure, the Second Person of the Trinity.
News headlines only seemed to underscore that Jesus had been somehow disinvited from his own birthday party: while Christians were preparing to once again celebrate the birth of the Savior, the world around them was running amok in sin, sickness, injustice, folly and division, all while offering up its own shallow version of the holiday. The ancient taunt echoed in my thoughts: “Where is the Lord, your God?” (Micah 7:10).
Yet as I reflected on modern society’s hollow recasting of Christmas – with the individual consumer now appearing in the title role, even as the whole plot seems to be unraveling – hope stirred within me.
And that’s because when the stage lights dim, the real Star only shines more brightly.
As John’s Gospel assures us, Jesus himself is “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12), and “without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:3). Indeed, “what came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (Jn 1:4).
No matter how wounded and depraved our hearts, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).
Actually, from a scientific perspective, darkness isn’t really an entity in and of itself, but rather the absence of light, and specifically of photons, the fundamental particles of light. Although some toy with the idea of a “speed of darkness,” astrophysicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson have dismissed such fanciful approaches as inaccurate. Even black holes, which absorb light (along with countless hours of scientific inquiry) can’t swallow up entire galaxies; the ever-expanding universe is simply too big and too filled with stars. Darkness, then, can’t claim to be anything other than the opposite of the light that ultimately vanquishes it.
The Light of the world was no stranger to the shadows, nor is he still. With millions suffering and marginalized, “darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds the peoples” (Is 60:2), yet we are called to lift our heads: “Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. … Upon you the Lord will dawn, and over you his glory will be seen” (Is 60:1,2).
Born into poverty in a land under foreign occupation, Jesus spent his “whole life … under the sign of persecution,” and “his own share it with him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 530). But the darkness that “came over the whole land” during Christ’s crucifixion (Mt 15:33) was swallowed up in the light of his resurrection, and in that light “we see light” (Ps 36:10).
Amid a world blinded by its own shadows, our Savior’s redeeming love — which satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts as no holiday gift ever could — radiates more brightly still. May we fix our gaze on him, and in so doing trace his Star for all to see.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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