“As is written in Isaiah, the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. As a voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Mark 1:1-8.
On this evening of our “Candlelight Mass” here at Santa Catalina, I wish to welcome families and friends, as well as students, faculty, and staff to this festive celebration so rich in tradition.
A few days ago, I received my very first Christmas card for 2017.
Like clockwork, a card arrived in the mail from a friend of so many years, Beverly.
The card reads: “Let us bring light, blessing, and healing to this earth, this world.”
The quote comes from Pope Francis, and continues: “May the celebration of Christmas inspire us to bring Light to our corner of the world.”
Indeed, this sentiment and our celebration this evening tell us that we are to welcome one another, and all those we meet this season to the warmth and light of Jesus Christ.
Are we able to do this work of Christ and bring light to the corner of our world?
Today I want to speak about this “Winter Light,” and of course, John the Baptist, who figures so prominently in today’s readings, asks that we “prepare the way of the Lord.”
Some ten days from now winter begins, and with it, for many in this northern hemisphere, it means cold and snow; and for those of us who want to visit snow country, it’s a drive up to Lake Tahoe.
So as the light of day diminishes this time of year, “Winter Light,” may imply freezing cold, ice. Someone may suffer from “seasonal affective disorder,” or personal isolation, and may say: “Why to venture out in the snow?” In this sense, I mean –the very absence of God in the lives of too many.
In the 1960s, Ingmar Bergman, the famous Swedish film director, created such a character in his film classic “Winter Light.” Ironically, the person who was experiencing the absences of God was Tomas, the Lutheran pastor of a small Swedish church.
He is a clergyman who lives day to day with a crisis of faith, in the dead of winter, when his soul sees little of the light promised him in the gospel. He feels the effects of God’s silence. This bleak, black & white film will not find its way on to the Hallmark Channel as a holiday classic.
Contrast this with Bergman’s 1983 semi-autobiographical film in Technicolor, “Fanny and Alexander,” one of my very favorite films. This movie begins at Christmas time and tells the story of a theatrical family who lives above their enterprise, a theater in the center of Uppsala, a family theater troupe of actors and artists who entertain the entire community.
It is the best Christmas celebration of faith, family, and fun. And mostly, there is light, such a glowing light of warmth.
That light would sustain the main characters, Fanny and Alexander, during the dark days that awaited them; such memories are like the “roses in December,” providing warmth, light, and, yes, even healing amid the darkness of personal loss and family conflict.
In effect, moments in our lives like Christmas and this holiday season, Bergman is saying can be a healing tonic for us – not to be discounted or forgotten for their deeply felt and cherished memories.
So let us, to borrow the words of Pope Francis, “Let us bring light to our corner of the world!”
Waiting, anticipation, and imagination are all around us during Advent, and John the Baptist breaks into our lives.
From the most unexpected place, the desert, he speaks to the truth of waiting in hope, light, and peace.
He was a dramatic figure and the most improbable of prophets: wearing camel hair, living on the margins, eating locust and wild honey, and his words were convincing: “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
The great contemporary American poet, Wendell Berry writes:
“If change is to come it will come from the margins –
It was the desert, not the temple that gave us the Prophets.”
We are told to prepare his way and make straight his path. While our lives as Christians have to do with knowledge of the Lord, and Christian service, it’s also about preparing and readying people to find Jesus in a new light.
- It’s about preparing young minds for engaging and hopeful lives.
- It’s about preparing young couples for a lifetime of happiness.
- It’s about preparing parents for more patience with their kids.
- It’s about preparing seniors for the courage with bouts of illness.
- It’s about preparing one another for a renewal of hope in distressing times.
Advent is preparing those who feel exiled, alienated, lost or uncertain — to come back and receive his love and our embrace.
Like John the Baptist, we are preparing one another for Christ, his refreshment. Like a healing tonic, this Advent is not to be discounted or forgotten.
Be of good cheer, Christmas is near!
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.