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The Light Of Christmas – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily December 24, 2021

“On behalf of the staff and Fr. Viet and Father Mohan, the Deacons, all the staff here we want to wish you all a merry Christmas and hope you have a wonderful time with your family. The four o’clock mass, I was here alone. I didn’t have a deacon, and so I was in the Gospel procession and I forgot about baby Jesus here. So I tripped over him and I knocked him out of his cradle. Not a great way to start the Easter or the Christmas Masses, so, but you know, Christmas for me has always been very nostalgic. It always brings back memories, I guess, maybe mostly from my childhood. One thing I don’t remember about Christmas, especially being raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, or outside of it, was 70 degrees on Christmas Eve. That was not part of my experience back then, but I do remember the excitement of the season. It really was in the air for weeks and weeks before Christmas. It was palpable, and I remember a happier mood. I guess as a child, you sometimes looked up at adults as kind of crabby or grumpy, but even those who were seemed genuinely happier during the Christmas season. Back then, everyone, everyone said, ‘Merry Christmas.’ and I think they really meant it. I remember family gatherings and decorations at Midnight Mass and presents, of course, as a child, but most of all, I remember lights, the Christmas lights. I lived in a little village where my grandmother lived and we lived there, and it wasn’t very big, but at Christmas time, every house, every house had lights on it. It changed, it was colorful, these Christmas lights, they transformed the darkness. They didn’t eliminate it, but they changed it. They changed it.

It’s interesting that the scriptures tonight on Christmas speak of light, so did our opening prayer for this Mass. The first reading, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shown. The Mass, the scripture readings for Mass in the morning on Christmas from St. John’s Gospel says, ‘A light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’ It introduces John and said, ‘He came for testimony to testify to the light so that all might believe in him. He was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.’ And then in the Gospel we had tonight the scene of the shepherds, the glory of the Lord shown around them. In other words, everything was brightly illuminated. It was full of light. It was overwhelming light, so much so that they were struck with fear and the angels had to say, ‘Do not be afraid.’ What is this light that seems to play such an important part of Christmas?

Reading on in John’s Gospel, maybe it helps us understand. He says the true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world. Jesus, my friends, is that light. That light pertains to being able to see more clearly it opens their eyes in new ways, a way guided by faith. A lot of times we think we see, but in fact, we don’t. There’s many things that happen right in front of our eyes that we are oblivious to. Allowing us to see what we were previously blind to is what the light of faith does. It’s the light that Jesus is.

We often think of Christmas as a birthday, the birthday of our Lord and yes, of course it is, but in a sense, it’s really more like a marriage where heaven and earth were wed, where the divine and the human become one flesh in Jesus. God so loved the world that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. God wants his original plan for mankind to be realized. He wants our end, your end and my end to be realized and achieved. The angels came to the shepherds at night, symbolic that they didn’t see everything, it was dark, but God’s glory changed that. Yes,  an exterior light, there was a physical brightness, but more important than that, there was an interior light and that too overwhelmed them and they had to be told not to be afraid. The angel said for the whole day, proclaimed you good news of great joy that will be for all the people of today in the city of David, a savior has been born, a savior. That means we need salvation. A savior has been born for you who is Christ. Meaning the Messiah, the Messiah, the anointed one, the one that had been promised by the Prophet and Lord and God. The first line of the catechism in the prolog, probably a pretty important line since it’s the first words in the catechism says, ‘God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself’ meaning that he didn’t need to create anything, no space, time, matter, atom’s, electrons, you, me, anything else ‘perfect and blessed in himself in a plan of sheer goodness,’ in other words, out of love, ‘freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.’ There it is, my friends. There’s the reason for existence so that we might share in God’s light. That’s why we exist. That’s why creation happened so that we might share a divine life. It’s all summed up in that one sentence. ‘To accomplish this,’ the catechism goes on, ‘when the fullness of time had come, God sent his son as redeemer and savior. In his son and through him, he invites the man to become in the Holy Spirit his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.’ The light of Christmas is to help us understand that plan of God to see how our present priorities might not always be conducive to our eternal purpose, our eternal well-being and our eternal end. The light of Christmas  is meant to help us see why God created us in the first place, what this life is really all about and the light of Christmas provides, shows us the way that God provided for achieving that end for which we were made, namely Jesus, the light who entered the darkness.

Soon, too soon, I’d say the Christmas lights will all come down. As we speak, I suspect Wal-Mart employees are unpacking Valentine’s inventory, but don’t let the light of Christmas go out in your heart. In a week or two, you may take the lights off from the house. You may take the tree down. Please wait until least the least Epiphany, but don’t let the darkness close in once the Christmas trimmings come down. There will be trials and struggles and hardships and plenty of darkness, but let the light that Christmas celebrates, let it shine brightly in your hearts because if we can do that, the world can be a better place. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome in and just like those Christmas lights that I admired as a child, it didn’t cast all the darkness down, but it changed it. It changed it. That baby born 2000 years ago, the one whose birth Christmas celebrates, he’s a true light, the true light, which enlightens everyone. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. And our celebration of Christmas invites us to keep that light, that light that Christmas speaks of, to keep it burning always in our heart. Merry Christmas.”