There are very few who have not longed for healing, redemption, happiness and liberation at some time in their lives. Our unhappiness can take many different forms and can spring from our own broken humanity or from outside forces.
The prophecy refers to the people who walked in darkness. This originally referred to conditions in Judea of the seventh century B.C., but the words could just as well have been written about our own time.
Darkness indeed seems to be getting the upper hand sometimes, but the light is never far behind. The people of the prophecy saw a great light, but seeing the light and responding to it are two different things.
There are some who cannot bear the light and hide themselves, but for those who open their hearts and minds there is new life and hope.
Who was this figure described in such a joyful symphony of exalted titles? Wonder-Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace seems an impossible role to fill.
We have no idea who the author of Isaiah originally had in mind in the seventh century B.C. This exalted figure would be the hand of God, establishing perpetual peace, justice and righteousness on the earth. This is clearly God’s wish, but God has to contend with human attitudes, choices and actions.
We have a distressing habit of getting in the way and derailing God’s plans. The prophecy still stands because prophecies are a sneak preview of God’s long-range intentions for humanity. The first generations of Jesus followers were positive that it described the Jesus whom they had known, thereby giving the prophecy a second and very important life.
When we associate this prophecy with the birth of Jesus, we are reminded that the light of God has always been with us in one form or another. We need to open our minds and hearts, for it must be welcomed and lived out to bring about the changes we long for.
The author of the book of Titus viewed Jesus as the grace of God manifested in the flesh. Jesus came to teach us how to live and how to be deeply and genuinely human. Our lives on Earth are a gift, providing us with the opportunities to learn these lessons while we wait for His return, however long that might take. We are not just marking time, but making full use of the gift of life.
The world into which Jesus was born was perilous and uncertain. The rulers still imposed their will on others and the Caesars still issued decrees. That is human history. God’s history is always working quietly in the background.
The light entered definitively into our world by means of poor and socially insignificant people, and in a very tense and turbulent backwater province of the Roman Empire.
Caesar’s decree was used by God so that Jesus could be born in the city of David, as was fitting for the Messiah.
God always uses human history in ways invisible and incomprehensible to us. The joyful angelic proclamation was not given to the high and mighty, but to a group of shepherds living on the fringes of society without status or honour.
The one clear message of the angels to the shepherds was: Rejoice! Great news! The time has come! This story has been an endless source of inspiration for art, music and literature, and it is captivating even for many not claiming any religious faith.
Perhaps this is because it expresses our hunger and longing for light, hope, comfort and a sense of divine presence. The world needs this more than ever today.
It is important that the birth of Jesus not be just another feast on the liturgical calendar or a cultural celebration, but the birth of divine life within each one of us. The nativity of the Lord was indeed an event, but it is also a continual process of human transformation and divine presence.
That same light that entered the world through Jesus must also enter the world again and shine brightly through us.
Let us joyfully welcome the light in our world, not just today but always.