(Christmas Midnight Mass (Is. 9:1-6; Ti. 2:11-14; Lk. 2:1-14])
When my sisters and I were much, much younger, and Christmas time would near, one of the songs we would love to sing, especially as we’d ride to and from school, was the 1847 French carol, “Cantique de Noel,” popularly sung in English as: “O Holy Night!” It is a moving carol we could very well all sing together this evening, as we celebrate the special Light of this holy night. The prayer of this evening’s Christmas Mass expresses three points that resonate with the message of that carol and the Gospel of this evening: first: Jesus gifted to us this night as light; second: Jesus, welcomed as light; and third: Jesus, hope of our eternal joy.
First, Jesus gifted to us as light. The prayer is praise for the Father. “Father, you have made this holy night radiant with the splendor of Jesus Christ as our light.” We, of course, living in Davao City, may actually have rare appreciation of night as darkness. It is relatively seldom when we are bereft of our lights – through a storm or calamity that downs the service of our electricity provider, through a technical problem that interrupts the service of Davao Light. Regularly, the night is filled with city lights – lights in homes and office buildings, lights on copious lampposts, moving lights coming from cars and trucks, multi-colored neon lights identifying shops and malls, lights advertising colorful wares designed to make life more comfortable. Especially at Christmastime, the lights at night are magically abundant and delightful, thousands upon thousands of small, flickering, dancing lights that create an enchanted land of Christmas images – likenesses of Santa, his reindeer and sleigh, competing with images of the nativity– the lit parol, the star of Bethlehem, the angels, the shepherds, the Magi, Mary and Joseph, the Child in the manger. The lights are so bright, we forget the night, the night with its consummate darkenss. We recall the darkness when the brown outs strike, and we suddenly find ourselves tapping around for the lost flashlight or the matches and candles sleeping in some seldom-opened cupboard. What is real at Christmas may be similar: countless artificial lights in sundry sizes and shapes, created to deftly chase away the night. Lights we invent to deny the darkness and assuage the fear that attend the problems we’d rather hide away from the light: the secret sickness we’d rather not show the doctor, the flaw in character that habitually conjures hurtful decisions, the hidden sin covered in rationalization, denial and shame. Artificial light: flight from the dark pain of night for which we must ultimately take responsibility.
Perhaps, for us Christmas tonight ought begin with the night, stripped of its faux light, and the realization we are enveloped in darkness, awaiting a dawn we cannot make for ourselves with flood lights, fluorescents, and neon lights. Perhaps, for us Christmas must mean turning off our invented lights in order to see the created splendor of the stars in the heavens. Perhaps, tonight Christmas must mean turning off the artificial, pasted-on, Close-up smiles in order to find the genuine peace within that is grace from on high. Perhaps tonight we must return in darkness to the truth of Christmas, to allow the darkness to reveal the light, darkness also created by God that intensifies the light, conjuring praise as whispered in awe at the outset of this Mass, “Father, you made this holy night radiant with the splendor of Jesus Christ, our Light!” It is the message of our Sacred Scripture: “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; among those who have dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah, 9:2). [From the Gospel of Matthew] “The people that sat in darkness have seen a great light, and to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, to them did light spring up (Mt 4:16). Recalling our own darkness and our own gloom, we say with Isaiah: “You have brought your people great joy and great rejoicing … For a child is born to us, a Son is given us; upon his shoulders dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Isaiah, 9:6). In this Light, the Good News for this day is proclaimed: in this Light, “Do not be afraid. Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For today, in the City of David, a savior has been born to you who is Christ Jesus, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
It is this Savior, this Jesus, this Christ, this Messiah, that we welcome in our Christmas prayer. “Father, you have made this Holy Night radiant with the splendor of Jesus Christ our Light. We welcome him as Lord, the true light of the world.” We welcome him as Light of lights, Light that makes other lights pale, Light that dispels not only the darkness of night, but vanquishes the darkness of the soul within. We welcome him, because in truth, even as we have distracted ourselves with our flickering lights, our Energizer flashlights, our coal-fired power lights, our computer lights, our laser beams and fireworks, we have truly long awaited him, our Light. So that in the night, we can joyfully proclaim, “There is a God! There is a God turned towards us in compassion and love! There is a God who lights the way, and he is Emmanuel, God with us.” As we welcome him, if we truly welcome him, we know things cannot continue in this world as if there were no God. As Titus in the second reading says, “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age” (Titus 2:11). It trains us to reject our hatred, our dishonesty, our lack of integrity, our indifference. It trains us to find God, connect with him, talk with him, live with him, since he comes to dwell with us, to pitch his tent with us.
Finally, we ask Jesus, our, Savior, our Messiah, our Light to lead us from this Holy Night to the eternal joy of the Kingdom. In the darkness of this night, we ask to savor the beauty of the stars shining that adorn the night of his birth. On this night, the divine dispels the dark despair of a weary world, and what was night becomes divine light, the hope of a new and glorious morn!
In the spirit of this night divine, let’s all sing together – paying prayerful attention to the lyrics – the Christmas song we all know from our childhood and sing from our heart:
O holy night,
The stars are brightly shining!
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on you knees!
O hear the angel voices!
O night divine!
O night, when Christ was born!
O night divine,
O night divine!