“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone…For there is a child born for us, a son given to us, and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.” (Isaiah 9: 1, 5)
Jesus’ followers first celebrated Christmas around the year 150 AD. They chose a day in late December not because it was the actual date of his birth (which is unknown), but because the time of year coincided with the pagan festival of the winter solstice – the beginning of longer days – as a way of proclaiming their belief that with Jesus came the victory of light over darkness, of life over death, of God over gloom.
Radiant though it is, the light of Jesus’ presence does not dispel the darkness, but instead shines as a beacon of hope, a sign that we are not alone. God is incarnate in our midst no matter how difficult or unfair life may be.
In whom does God dwell now that Jesus is no longer among us in the flesh? Where is the light giving us hope in our darkest days? A 17th century priest and physician, Angelus Selisius, once said: “If Christ were born a thousand times in Galilee it would be in vain until he were born in thee, in me.” Christmas in the fullest, spiritual sense isn’t just about history – Jesus born, scripture scholars estimate, around the year 4 BCE in Bethlehem – it is about mystery, God incarnate here and now, “in thee, in me.”
The celebration of Christmas is filled with images of a babe in a manger, shepherds, and choirs of angels singing Jesus’ praise. This warm and wonderful story easily becomes nostalgic and sentimental if taken literally. When, on the other hand, we realize Christmas is also a celebration of God incarnate “in thee, in me,” it becomes a radical invitation to live in a way that bears witness to the presence and power of Love and Light.
No matter what one’s beliefs or religious affiliation if any, Christmas can be a reminder that if our lives are to have meaning, if we are to fulfill our purpose, if this world is to become the “Kindom” (web of loving relationships) it is meant to be, we must be people through whom “a light has shone.”