Homily for Christmas Day 2021

The darkness didn’t overcome the light

A man built a prosperous business through hard work and honest dealings. As he advanced in age, he felt concerned about the future of his enterprise because he had no children or close relatives, except for three nephews.


One day he summoned the young men and declared, “I have a problem, and whoever comes up with the best solution will inherit all that I possess.” Giving each of them an equal amount of money, he instructed them to buy something that would fill his large office. “Spend no more than I have given you,” he directed, “and be sure to be back by sunset.”


All day long each nephew attempted separately to fill his uncle’s instructions. Finally, they obediently returned to make their report.


The first nephew dragged in a few huge sacks of Styrofoam packing “peanuts” that nearly filled the office when the sacks were emptied. After the room was cleared, the second nephew brought in bundles and bundles of helium-filled balloons that floated throughout the office, filling it better than the Styrofoam. The third nephew stood silent and forlorn. His uncle inquired of him, “So what have you to offer?”


“Uncle,” replied the nephew, “I spent half of my money to help a family whose house burned down last night. Then I ran into some kids in trouble and gave most of the rest to an inner-city youth center. With the little bit I had left, I bought this candle and matches.” Then he lit the candle and its glowing light filled every corner of the room!


The kindly old uncle realized that here was the noblest of his family. He blessed the nephew for making the best use of his gift and welcomed him into his business.


Our first reading for the “Mass at Midnight”, Isaiah 9:1-6, solemnly begins, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” In the gospel (Luke 2:1-14), when the angels announce the birth of the Lord, it says, “…the glory of the Lord shone around them…”


Our gospel reading for the Christmas Mass “during the Day”, the beautiful, poetic prologue of the Gospel of John 1:1-18, includes the following: “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”


At this Christmas celebration it is good for us to be reassured by these words, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We have been living with a lot of darkness, have we not? The seemingly never-ending Covid pandemic, which just comes back, again and again. Economic uncertainty, social upheaval, people we love getting sick, people we love dying. We live in darkness. We gather today during the darkest time of the year. And yet, we are reminded this Christmas day, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”


In a recent homily Pope Francis speaks of the light in the darkness: “Jesus is Lord, the sun that dawns on high and never sets; the One who endures while everything else passes away, our sure and eternal hope.” The Holy Father teaches that our God comes to us also in the night, when dark clouds gather. But we should never stop seeking the light. We should not remain closed in on ourselves, ruled by our fears. Rather, we are called to be builders among the ruins of today’s world, being capable of dreaming. People who dream do not remain in the darkness; rather, they light a candle.


Pope Francis invites us to make Jesus our life’s dream, rather than staying in the dark. That means buying into Jesus’ dream for the world. We will find ourselves coming out of the darkness when we try to

  • Make our world more beautiful and humane
  • Cultivate fraternity
  • Heal the wounds of God’s creation
  • Fight to ensure the dignity of the vulnerable
  • Spread the spirit of solidarity and sharing


Like the third nephew, who had the most noble solution to his uncle’s challenge, we are called to dream, to be dazzled by the light of the gospel, to watch with hope during the night, and rather than cursing the darkness, light a candle.


This is the simple, but powerful message of Christmas that takes faith out of our heads and plants it in our hearts: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Drink in the light. Savor it. Feel its power. And then bring it to a dark corner of your everyday world. In this way Christmas will not be just a memory, or a custom, or a pious day on the calendar. Christmas will be the light God gives us to change our world, even one person at a time. Think. Is there someone you love who lives in darkness? Take today’s light with you, and share it. The darkness will not overcome it. That’s how Christmas becomes something real. When the people who walk in darkness see a great light, and share it, that’s Christmas!