Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
The Dark Side of Christmas
There is a dark side to Christmas. The key player in the story is King Herod. The wise men who were looking for the Christ Child came to Herod to ask if he had any information about where the birth would take place. He told them to go to the area of Bethlehem. Herod asked the wise men to return after they found Jesus to tell him the exact place so he could go and pay homage to the child. The fact was Herod had no intention of paying homage. He wanted to destroy the child because he viewed the child as a treat to his rule. The wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. So they returned to their countries by different paths. Herod was enraged and he ordered the killing of 2,000 infants under two years old in the Bethlehem area. His paranoia drove him to this extreme act. The good news was that Joseph and Mary were warned in a dream to flee to Egypt with their child. They did not return until after Herod had died.
Herod ordered a genocide. How could anyone do that? Never underestimate the forces of darkness.
The forces of darkness are at work in our world in at least three ways. There is the level of personal sin. St. Paul put it this way: “The good that I would do, I do not and the evil I would not do, I do.” There is a certain perversity in the human spirit. Even though we intend to do good we fall well short of doing it. Is it because we are selfish? Is it because we have limited vision? The intention to do good is there but we are never successful carrying out this intention.
There is also the level of corporate sin. Racism and attitudes towards groups that are different are examples. This week St. James’s hosted the CARITAS program, a shelter program for people who are homeless. When you sit down for a meal with one of our guests, you soon realize that this person has the same hopes and dreams for life that you do. At that moment homelessness has a face which generates a spirit of compassion in us. We want to help. Yet when we see homeless people congregating in great numbers we lose the sense of personal identification. They become “the homeless,” a group of people who are set apart and different. Seeing a large group of homeless people may make us feel fearful. We wonder why they are homeless. Can’t they find jobs? We feel they deserve much tougher treatment than the ministry of compassion we extend to them.
There is a tendency to develop negative attitudes toward people who appear different. These can be racial or ethnic attitudes. In our time we are being tested about our attitudes toward the Muslin world. We have experienced terrorism coming from the Muslin world. Does that mean all muslins are terrorists? Of course not, but if we are not mindful, racial and ethnic stereotyping will occupy center stage in our lives.
A third level of darkness is the demonic. What about the devil as a personal force? Scott Peck wrote a book titled, The People of the Lie in which he described two exorcisms. These were rites conducted by specially trained Roman Catholic clergy to drive evil spirits from the person who was possessed. Dr. Peck had a hard time getting his book published. It is not fashionable to talk about the devil.
The demonic is very powerful. Look at the genocides in Nazi Germany, Rwanda or the Armenian genocide. Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man cannot be underestimated. The forces of darkness are alive and well. Often they come out when we are afraid. We want to protect ourselves and so we blame others. We also have a great capacity for denial. We fool ourselves by believing that something bad we are doing is actually a good thing. I need to relax so I will take one more drink before I drive home. The forces of darkness can drive us to the depths of hopelessness and despair.
We need a savior. The angel proclaimed: “For to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord.” In the Gospel of John the author put it this way: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” The author also said: “The word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” God is present and the forces of darkness will not prevail.
The Christmas story draws us toward the Easter story. From his birth Jesus grew into manhood. He exercised a ministry of truth telling and healing. His ministry was characterized by generosity and sacrifice. He confronted the forces of darkness. He gave and gave until he had given his life away. As he hung on the cross all the forces of darkness were arrayed against him. On Good Friday Jesus died. It appeared the forces of darkness had won. Then God worked God’s greatest miracle. God raised Jesus from the dead. God transformed death into life, despair into hope and darkness into blazing light.
All of our benefits come from that victory: Forgiveness, reconciliation, hope and the beginning of a new day. These are the gifts from God’s transforming act.
We live in a world where we continue to do battle with the fords of darkness. We are God’s ambassadors so what happens is up to us. Each of us must do his part. Because we have the gift of faith, we can bring faith to others. Because we have hope we can bring hope to others. Because the light of Christ shines brightly in our hearts we can make the world a brighter place.
On this first Sunday of the New Year it is time to make New Year’s resolutions: How can I make the light of Christ shine more brightly in my world? Remember, it is in the little things, the smile, the random act of kindness, the warm hug that the battle is won or lost.