“There are stories about what happened. …” Rey said.
“It’s true,” replied Han, “–all of it: the Dark Side; the Jedi. They’re real!”
You’ll recognize that from the trailers for the new Star Wars movie that is out now. An older, haggard Han Solo is talking to the two new, young heroes who have only heard stories about how the Republic defeated the Empire, and how the Jedi defeated the evil Dark Side of the Force. These stories are no more than legends to them; but Han knows from experience that it’s all true: the evil of the Dark Side is real; the goodness and power of the Light is also real, and it had triumphed.
Now, our heroes find themselves in a new darkness – searching for meaning and light. And, no, I am not going to give any more of the movie away at this Mass! However, what we should recognize is how this art parallels our reality in the world today. What darkness to we find in our lives? What evil is manifest around us? Are these just, “stories,” “fables”? Is evil and darkness just something that religious people make up?
Or, is the state of the world and the darkness that we see more real than we know?
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”
The Prophet Isaiah expresses the longing of the People of Israel as they look for meaning in their own lives and in the life of their nation. Like us, they, too, were “a people walking in darkness,” feeling the weight of the negativity and, yes, evil in their world; and they too sought a Savior. We know this longing; and there are stories about what happened. Today, we gather again and remember that story:
a story about a census, and a journey to Bethlehem
a story about an over-packed inn and an improvised room in a stable
a story about the birth of the Christ and Lord
a story about angel choirs and bright lights in the midnight hills.
This story is told and retold so many times that, perhaps, it has taken on the quality of legend and, therefore, that of fiction. However, it is through this very story that we recall tonight that we have come to know the salvation that God wills for us all.
“The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires,” St. Paul writes. This grace of God dwelt among us as Jesus Christ, and it all began this night – not with blasters and lightsabers, but with heavenly light! In the darkest of night, the Light breaks forth, and we know that glory of God that brings peace to earth. No: it’s not just a legend – it’s the truth.
In our deepest need, God broke into our history so that we can encounter Him in a real way – a human way. This encounter begins tonight. How many throughout history have had this encounter – a real, personal encounter with Jesus Christ? Have you?
That first Christmas, the encounter began with the angels’ announcement to those shepherds. Following that message, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw this miracle themselves. From there, they went forth and made known their encounter to others. God’s presence among us slowly brought light into the dark corners of the world – in time, even to the point of defeating sin and death.
No darkness that we encounter is stronger than that saving power of God – first manifest as this Baby in the stable. In our day, when we find darkness every time we turn on the TV, we wonder if this “story” is real – if it truly can save us. When we are searching for meaning, maybe we feel the darkness even more. This is why we need “angels” – those who can remind us of that glory of God breaking into our world. This is the power of witness – of sharing that encounter that we have had with Jesus Christ with others.
Maybe it’s been a while – so long, perhaps, that it seems like a legend or a fairy tale – but we have encountered Him. He comes to us in the charity and love of our brothers and sisters who have helped us. He comes in the Sacramental presence that we share in this Eucharist. He comes as that ray of light that reminds us that “the light of even a single candle dispels the night.”
Christmas is a reminder of all of this. There are always these stories today – stories of a birth “long ago in a [land] far, far away.” The Christian disciple’s role is to tell the world what we know:
It’s true – all of it!