The Light in the Darkness

It was just before Christmas. David Storch, a music teacher, borrowed a copy of the score of Handel’s Messiah from the Brooklyn Public Library. For some reason, through a clerical error, the transaction was not recorded.

Afterward, there were several other requests for the score, and the library staff – unaware that it had been checked out – spent many hours searching in vain for it through the stacks.

On the day that Storch returned it, placing it on the circulation desk, he was astonished to hear the librarian spontaneously, joyously, and loudly shout, “The Messiah is here! The Messiah is back!” Every head in the library turned toward the voice, but, sadly, as the The New York Times reported, “A few minutes later everyone went back to work.” Only a paper version of Messiah had come back to the library, not the Messiah himself.

If people had only known who was in their midst when Jesus walked the byways of Israel 2,000 years ago, a similar cry would have rung out – spontaneously, joyously, and loudly, “The Messiah is here!” But only a few were blessed with that critical insight. The first of these was that eccentric preacher in the wilderness, John the Baptist. We heard his story in today’s Gospel.

John said, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

What powerful words those are: “Among you stands one you do not know. . .” Who was this one that the world did not know? It was, of course, God Himself in human form.

Think for a few moments about the difference that the coming of Christ made in the world. With the coming of Christ, light came into the world – the light of God’s love. That’s the way the Gospel of John describes the difference that Christ’s coming made in our world. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This is why churches and homes throughout the Christian world display candles and lights this time of year. When Christ came into the world, light penetrated the darkness – the light of God’s love.

And when Christ came into the world, a new way of living was revealed.

John the Baptist had one mission in life and that was to prepare the world for the coming of Christ. Isn’t that my mission and your mission as well?

One of the movies always on television this time of year is the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. In it Jimmy Stewart plays a man named George Bailey. George is a man with great dreams and ambitious plans. He wants to get out of the tiny town of Bedford Falls and make a name for himself, but fate seems to have other plans. Problems begin piling up on him.

As he heads off to college his father has a stroke and George must take over the family business. His brother comes home from college with a new wife. Again George’s dreams are put on hold. Then George gets married, but there’s a run on the bank and he and his bride must use their honeymoon money to bail out the family business. He even fears that he will be tried and sent to jail over money that has disappeared from the family business. He finds himself saying, “It would be better if I had never been born!”

Believing he is ruined, George determines to take his own life. He is prevented from suicide by an angel, however, who gives George a chance to see what life would have been like for everyone else if he had never been born. His faith in himself and his neighbors is restored as he finds out that his acts of kindness have indeed made a difference.

One of the most important questions that each of us confronts in life is this one: Is the world a better place because we were born? Have we left a trail of acts of kindness that have ennobled our legacy? We know the babe of Bethlehem left such a legacy. The whole reason for this season is that his birth changed the destiny of this planet.

The coming of Christ touched every aspect of human existence – families became better families because of Jesus, marriages became better marriages because of Jesus, the fate of people at the bottom of society became better because of Jesus, hospitals were built for the sick because of Jesus, schools were established for the young – all because he once walked the sands of Palestine.

Ripples of influence from his life still continue today. And if we count ourselves as his followers, they continue through us.

“Among you stands one you do not know.” When Christ came into the world, light penetrated the darkness, the light of God’s love, and, thus, a new way of living was revealed. Isn’t that what the so-called spirit of Christmas is all about? For at least a brief season, human beings show their love for one another through such things as the giving of gifts and generosity toward the needy. People open their hearts in a way completely unique to this time of year.

It was a chilly night in 1949, just a day before Christmas. Elizabeth English and her husband Herman had an unusually busy day at their store, and all they cared about was getting a good night’s sleep. The only thing left unsold in their shop that day was a layaway package that was never claimed. Elizabeth carefully put it away before closing the store.

The next morning, after she and Herman and their son Tom had opened their presents, Elizabeth was cleaning up the kitchen. Suddenly she felt a gentle urge that she should “take a walk.” It was crazy, it was cold outside, but she could not deny the power of this strong urge. And so, on this chilly Christmas Day she said to Herman, “I’m going to take a walk.”

Reaching their store, she encountered two young boys. They were poorly dressed. Their clothes barely covered them against the cold. When they saw her one of them exclaimed, “There she is. See, I told you she would come.”

“What brought you boys here?” Elizabeth asked.

“We came looking for you,” one of the boys declared. “Our little brother Jimmy didn’t get any Christmas gifts and we want to buy skates. We have three dollars.”

With tearful eyes, Elizabeth was about to tell them they had no more skates. But then she remembered the unsold layaway package she had carefully put away the previous day. She opened the store and reached for the package sitting on the topmost shelf. And what do you know? The package contained a pair of skates. “Have this,” one of the boys said, offering Elizabeth the three dollars. But Elizabeth wouldn’t take the money from them.

“Go buy yourselves some nice gloves,” she said with a smile.

Then she said to the boys, “How lucky you were that I came.”

“I knew you would come,” the older boy said.

“How?” she asked.

“I asked Jesus to send you,” he said. Elizabeth felt something tingling down her spine. It appeared that God was somehow involved in this beautiful event. “I asked Jesus to send you,” the older boy said . . . and somehow she knew it was true.

Elizabeth walked home with a warm glow in her heart. Dinner tasted more delicious that night. She went to bed with great joy in her heart. But the one thing that made that Christmas really joyous was the one thing which makes every Christmas joyous – Jesus was there. His love had touched her life.

I hope Christ’s love has touched your life and that you will touch someone else’s. When Christ came into the world, the light of God’s love penetrated the darkness and a new way of living was revealed. May this spirit of generosity and love continue to spread through you and me until the day comes when Jesus comes again.