His light shines throughout the year

Naturally, there was spiritual preparation too — Confession was a must and listening to and singing Christmas carols brought a certain sense of awareness of the coming of the Christ Child.

Dec 24, 2022

                   Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Gerard Theraviam

Nativity of the Lord (A)
Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10;
Hebrews 1:1-6;
Gospel: John 1:1-18

My childhood memories of Christmases past include the build-up to the big day. Anticipation and excitement increased as the day came nearer. There was so much to do — shopping for new clothes and shoes, spring cleaning the house and putting up the crib, tree and other decorations, writing and receiving greeting cards, buying or making gifts and anticipating them, carol practices and singing ourselves hoarse till the wee hours.

Naturally, there was spiritual preparation too — Confession was a must and listening to and singing Christmas carols brought a certain sense of awareness of the coming of the Christ Child. Nevertheless, it all then centred on the actual Day itself. Midnight Mass, coming home to a family supper and then receiving guests at our open house all day long was the order of the day.

On Christmas night, I would go to bed tired but with a sense of satisfaction, but the next morning, I would feel completely deflated. It was all over! To think I would have to wait another 365 days for it to happen again! I guess at that time, I didn’t have the sense of Christmas as a season — it felt strange that we were still singing carols at church in the days after Christmas. Before Epiphany, the decorations would have been brought down and stored for the following year before we went back to school just after New Year’s Day. And life continued in its rhythms for another year.

Perhaps, what I missed out on was that Christmas was a season, rather than a single day — which gave more opportunities to reflect on its significance. Furthermore, Christmas celebrated the entrance of Christ into the world but His presence was to be felt throughout the year!

The reality of the Christ Child being born in abject poverty came to my realisation one Christmas as a priest. The youth had constructed a huge crib scene, complete with real live animals. Just before the Midnight Mass, I stopped by to admire its beauty together with all the excited children, but I realised the vile stink coming from the animal’s excrement. I realised that poor Mary brought her child into the world in such unfriendly, unhygienic, cold surroundings, contrary to romanticised, pretty cribs we often construct. Indeed, the Saviour had chosen to be born poor and remained later ‘with nowhere to lay His head’. Thus, His very humble entry must point us to those who live in poverty. Recognising that He was born into poverty, we too need to look at the lives of the poor and enter into them.

The Word was made flesh and lived among us! God did not choose to look down at humanity and creation from afar but chose to ‘turun padang’ and entered into the fray by becoming just like us, experiencing our earthly circumstances, both good and bad, without falling into sin.

He is Emmanuel, God-is-with-us! Not just near us, or looking at us, but with and within us, part of our daily lives as we sigh and weep, smile and laugh because He chooses to draw us to Himself by accompanying us. Yes, He may be oftentimes silent and we may mistake that to mean He is absent. Nevertheless, He truly is cheering us on in our triumphs and crying silent tears as He picks us up from our falls and carries us as a shepherd carries the lost sheep.

Indeed, most of the time, His presence is hardly discernible. Some of us may go through tough times in life where we seem to enter into what St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross refer to as the dark night of the senses, or more intensely, the dark night of the soul, when we are completely unable to fathom the presence of God for a period of time. Yet in faith, we are called to keep walking and trusting. The night surely will end with the rising of the sun!

Yes, there are ‘kairos’ or special moments when His grace and presence are strongly felt and remembrances of this buoy us on in our dark nights. Yes, we who walk in darkness have seen the great light which enables us to continue walking in faith. Thus, we no longer give in to our fears, but instead allow ourselves to be led by the grace of God. Jesus is the light that enlightens us all and continues to shed His light upon us, that we may learn to follow His ways.

His light shines on us throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Thus, we need to anticipate and discern the coming of God into our lives and the lives of our neighbours each day. The gentle presence is often missed when we do not anticipate it — He comes to us in persons and situations, even in difficult times. And when we are able to discern His silent yet sure presence, we experience an inner joy, regardless of the weight of the cross we may be carrying.

Having experienced the joy and light, we too are called to be light and salt, that we may reflect not ourselves, but the light and flavour of Jesus to people who walk in darkness.

(Fr Gerard Theraviam is the parish priest of the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Kuala Lumpur)

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