The evidence of this darkness bombards us from the media constantly, but sometimes we even experience it personally. The effects of the world’s fear, anger, hatred, paranoia and cruelty can be overwhelming, leaving many with a feeling of gloom, cynicism and hopelessness.
The past year has brought more than its share of blood, outrage and injustice. But that is only half of the equation. The Light is always just behind the darkness, lifting the veil and illuminating hearts and souls.
The darkness can never overcome the light or hide it for long. When the Light enters the world, as it does continually, there are two reactions. Some embrace it with joy and take it into their heart, but others flee in fear or even try to snuff it out.
The prophecy from Isaiah, even though it was given to Jerusalem at a rather difficult and depressing time, portrays the positive reaction. Many from near and far, and all walks of life, will stream towards the Light to welcome it. This will inaugurate a period of transformation and happiness.
Darkness and light are locked in a sort of tug-of-war, but the eventual outcome is not in doubt. It is just a matter of when it will happen. When it is darkest, we need to remember that it is darkest just before the dawn. We can live in hope, watchful for the first streaks of dawn as the light rolls back the darkness. There is even more — we can and should be part of that light.
Salvation history is not a spectator sport, but one in which everyone is expected to play their part. And there are many signs of hope: countless individuals and organizations work for peace, feed the poor, welcome refugees and strive to remove barriers and prejudices that hinder human solidarity.
Ephesians lets us in on a big secret, one that we all know in a superficial way but have not fully understood. Inclusion has been God’s plan from the very beginning of time and all history flows toward that goal. The Gentiles were included in God’s plan and are now part of God’s family. This may seem obvious and ho-hum to us now, but it was a radical notion at the time. The process is still not finished, for we have not fully welcomed others into our hearts and our lives. There are far too many instances of dividing, judging and excluding.
At the end of history, there will not be anyone or anything outside the embrace of God’s love. We can hinder or hasten that goal, but we cannot prevent it.
The magi — religious sages or priests — had been expectant and vigilant in anticipation of the Light. Not only did they scan the heavens and the stars, they also cast their gaze on distant lands and peoples. They did not allow themselves to be confined by the familiar and the ordinary.
Perceiving that something was afoot in the heavens, they left the safety and comfort of their homeland for a long and arduous journey to Bethlehem. They followed the star — probably more like a moving light — until they came to the place where Jesus lay. There they worshipped Him as a king, fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah. But there was fierce opposition.
Whenever the Light enters the world, many earthly powers get very nervous, for they know that they do not rule rightfully or justly. Herod was a prime example — he did everything in his power to kill the infant Jesus. In his fear and paranoia, he even ordered the slaughter of infant children in his frantic attempts to maintain power and control.
We see the same sad drama played out in our world — the struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, and love and hatred. There is tension between equality and the desire to dominate others. We would all like to see and experience more of the joy of Isaiah’s prophecy and the journey of the magi.
For humanity to recognize, follow and rejoice in the Light, we must leave the familiar paths, becoming once again pilgrims and seekers.