From those obscure places, fear has descended on the earth, dreams have been shattered, lives have been ended. From the depths of the earth has arisen a monstrous caricature of a noble religious faith, a distortion that is bent on war rather than peace, a distortion that is bent on destruction rather than redemption. For now the eyes of the world are fixed on an impoverished country that for centuries has been a crossroads of traditions and the scene of bloody conflicts.
In these days, when we enter upon the Season of Advent and approach the Feast of Christmas, I would invite you to search out another cave, a once obscure Middle Eastern cave, originally a shelter for livestock. It was in this cave where an event took place some two millennia ago that forever changed the world.
From the darkness of this cave, there shone forth light -- "the true light which enlightens everyone" (John 1:9). From the silence of that cave came forth the living Word of God, and with the advent of that Word, was sung the praises of God "a joyful noise reaching to the ends of the earth: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests" (Luke 2:14).
To this hidden cave, in a remote corner of the Roman Empire, there came no soldiers armed with weapons. Instead it was visited by shepherds with their staffs and kings with their gifts. They came to see a tiny baby, bundled in tatters and lying in a manger. They came to see Jesus. And looking at Jesus they saw the Son of God made man, sleeping in a cave where animals used to reside. He was there because there was no room for him elsewhere. He was there because He wanted to be with us to show us how much our Father loves us. In showing us the Father's love, this infant also revealed the great dignity and destiny of each and every human being. We are called to holiness. We are called to eternal glory. The infant in the manger is the Word made flesh. He is there to reveal us to ourselves. He is the light of the world and the light that shines in each heart that welcomes Him.
The light which Jesus came to bring into the world reaches into the darkest recesses of the human heart. It reaches those places where we struggle with sin, wrestle with despair, cope with guilt, and experience grief and pain too intense for words. The light of Jesus seeks to piece the facade of normality which most of us erect to mask our inadequacy and our flaws. "Who could love me as I really am?" we seem to ask. "Who could love me inside out? Who could love me not for what I own or what I can do but for who I am?" The light of Jesus is like an x-ray that reveals what is in the depth of our hearts and liberates us from the burden of pretense. If we allow that light to shine in our hearts, then we will know what love really is.
The light that comes from the cave at Bethlehem sheds light on the dimly lit caves of prehistoric times where civilization first began to develop. That same light illumines the concrete canyons of our great cities, places of achievement and failure, triumph and tragedy. The light of His love reveals human genius in all its forms as reflections of divine wisdom and love. It makes manifest what is good and noble in every culture, religion, or system of thought and challenges us to be makers of peace and seekers of justice. And even as His light exposes hatred for what it is, that same light challenges each of us to see how we may have contributed to a climate where hatred can grow. Dare I say also that the light Jesus brought into the world seeks to enter even those dark caves where terrorists are in hiding?
This year, we wonder what Christmas will be like. We wonder what a post 9/11 Christmas will be like. The usual forms of Christmas cheer "all by themselves" won't work their magic this year. This year we are challenged to celebrate what Christmas is really all about: "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). Only our stubborn belief in Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God as the light of the world, will help us find our way through this current valley of darkness.
May you and your loved ones experience the deep joy of Christ's presence in your hearts and homes at Christmas and throughout the New Year.
First published in Fairfield County Catholic, the monthly newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport. Reprinted with permission.
back to top