Dec 28, 2015

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Homily of the midnight Mass on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord at Niigata Cathedral.

My dear brothers and sisters,
Merry Christmas.

Year after year, We gather together in this Cathedral in the evening of 24 December to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. Yes, we also gather again during the daytime on 25th to celebrate the Christmas, however, the most important moment for the celebration of Christmas is in this evening celebration. We all know that nowadays majority of people in Japan celebrates Christmas even among non-Christians in the evening on 24th and that is really fitting for the celebration even though they do not realize the real meaning of it. Let me explain it.

As we see from the Gospel reading this evening, the birth of Jesus took place during the night. It said that "there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock" However, repeating what is written in the Gospel is not the reason of what I am talking about.

The Gospel continues as follows; "the angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them." So it was light. It was bright light shinning in the darkness. It was the bright light which struck shepherds with great fear.

In the first reading, prophet Isiah wrote "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone"

Who are these "people who walk in darkness" or "who dwell in the land of gloom"?

Few months after the massive earthquake and tsunami which hit Tohoku in 2011, I visited the disaster hit area. Toward evening, as there were no electricity in the area, darkness prevailed. There were no house lights nor street lights. Only darkness prevailed. While standing in the midst of this darkness, I started feel uneasiness, anxiety or even fear. I was sure that darkness produced negative energy for those evacuated in the shelters, negative energy which easily destroy people's hope for the future. Negative effects of darkness were what I felt physically that night.

What kind of reality are we living in today? Fear for terrorism. No one knows what will happen next and where that might take place. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail in this world today. In Japan, we are not able to expect bright future with economic development anymore. The reality of fewer kids and aging society makes us wonder about our future. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail. On an global scale, climate change has been affecting so many people severely especially in so-called under-developed countries but also us in the so-called developed countries and no one knows clear future of our common house, the earth. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail. We are, therefore, the "people who walk in darkness", aren't we? We are, therefore, the people "who dwell in the land of gloom", aren't we? Many of us are increasingly dominated by uneasiness, anxiety and fear caused by inability to see clear future because we are in deep darkness.

Some months after the first visit to the disaster hit area, I again made another visit to the same town for Caritas meeting. We met in a former hotel building which survived the tsunami and had been used as Caritas Volunteer center. As we finished the meeting, I got out of the building only to be amazed by the sight. The building was a shining tower in the midst of deep darkness. Electricity was provided by a generator in the building and the town did not have electricity yet.

If it were in ordinary town, the light of this tinny hotel was nothing more than one of many lights in the town. Or even, no one would have noticed that there were lights in this building. Just a part of ordinary scenery of the town in the night. However, because of prevailing deep darkness, such ordinary and small light was shining through like the beacon of bright hope, defeating all the uneasiness, anxiety and fear of the people. The small light of the building became the source of hope for many.

Jesus was born as small baby. Hope for whole humankind was just a small light in darkness. That is the reason why the Church celebrate Christmas in darkness in the night. That is the reason why we, just before we started the Mass, had small candle for each one of us in the darkness of this chapel so that we may feel brightness of such a small candle lights. Even small lights can shine through to brighten people's heart in deep darkness. What we need is this small light of hope in all our hearts to overcome darkness of uneasiness, anxiety and fear.

We are in the Jubilee Year of Mercy now. People living in darkness with uneasiness, anxiety and fear are tend to live in mutual distrust. How can people trust each other while they are not sure about tomorrow's fate? I feel that the mutual distrust may results judgmental tendency among us. Good or bad? Friend or foe? Yes or No? As we are pressed to make judgment in order to be relieved from anxiety and fear, we tend to jump to conclusion. That is the reason why we tend to be judgmental and easily label others that they are good or bad. Generosity, tolerance and joy have no space to survive in such a society. Mercy is forgotten.

We find, these days, in internet and TV shows the heartwarming stories quite often. Why do we love to know these heartwarming stories? Why people love to watch such TV shows? Because, in reality, heartwarming experiences are missing. In the judgmental society, generosity, tolerance and joy disappear and we are hungry for story of love and mercy. Today's world needs mercy of God much more than before to escape from captivity of darkness.

For all of us living in the darkness of uneasiness, anxiety and fear, light has been given. The light is Jesus, the new born baby, who is mercy of God, who is love of God. Mercy and love of God is what we need to light our small candle, candle which brings generosity, tolerance and joy to the world.  


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