Christmas I, Year A
The Collect: O God, on this day when we rejoice in the birth of thy Son, whom thou hast given to us in everlasting love, instill in us thy presence, that, as we still await the consummation of all things, the babe in the manger might yet dwell with us in our hearts, through the grace of thy Holy Spirit, forever and ever, world without end.
From Luke’s account of the shepherds we get the idea that Jesus was born at night. In telling us of a people walking in darkness, the reading from Isaiah invites us to see this circumstance of Jesus’ birth as symbolic of our lives without him. If the babe in the manger is Isaiah’s “great light,” though, why does such darkness persist in our lives, even for us who believe? Should not the holy event have wiped forever the tears from our eyes?
How can we love God in our hours of darkness, when we feel that God’s presence is nowhere near? To have Jesus born at night means that God chose to become present precisely when the world was dark. His coming, though, divides the night into before and after, absence and presence—and yet many of us still await him, as though he were absent, the manger everlastingly empty in anticipation. The world, which should be light, taunts us with its continuing darkness. Although the Book of Mormon peoples were treated to an exception, the very moment of Jesus’ birth did not bring the dawn. Night persisted still.
In the face of whatever guilt we might feel for failing to perceive his presence, the Epistle comfortingly enjoins our continued waiting, teaching us to live “in the present age … lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Even after his coming, still we wait, as absence seems to persist in the face of presence. We look to the horizon with eagerness for the dawn.
How can God be present to us in this waiting, when his mere coming seemed not to be enough? Nephi knew that Christ would come, and he looked forward with steadfastness and rejoicing, still practicing the law that had yet to be made perfect. He lived, in other words, as though the consummation had already occurred, even if he knew it hadn’t. Assuming this faith to have been efficacious, the as-yet-absence of Christ’s eventual fulfillment becomes a technicality. For Nephi he is, though technically absent, nevertheless present. And so it may be in our lives, too, as we in our shadows still await the perfect day.
If in our daily walk we do not always perfectly shine forth the light of his coming, the gift of Christmas is that Jesus is there, even in our darkness. The beauty of holiness in which we worship turns out to be a commixture of light and shadow, our praises limned out in chiaroscuro. Rather than dispelling our darkness, the great light of his coming inhabits it. Jesus does not spurn our dappled selves of white and grey; he embraces them to the extent of taking their very form upon himself. This is the miracle of Incarnation: that in becoming human, Jesus can be present to any human circumstance, no matter how unworthy of divinity it may seem. Let us therefore walk with love in the world, for acts of love often illuminate the Christ that was in someone else’s darkness all along. In such moments, the Christ child is born all over again. Rejoice, then, and be glad, in this Christmas night!