We will experience the longest night of the year in just a few days — on Dec. 21, the winter solstice. For ancient people who worshiped the sun, it was a time to mark the end of the long days of darkness and give thanks to their solar deity for the return of the light and heat on which their lives depended.
Science long ago taught us how to understand the changing of the seasons. But the shadow of darkness still looms over humanity in different ways. We can be mired at times in the darkness of prejudice, greed, envy, bitterness and hatred. We may feel unable to receive God’s mercy and offer it to others. We can fail to recognize every person’s God-given human dignity.
But, during the season of Advent, we pray with expectation and hope for the coming of Christ, who removes all fear and darkness. And, at Christmas, we decorate our homes with lights and evergreens to celebrate his coming into the world as the ever-living Light that warms our hearts and can transform our lives.
Jesus dispels the darkness, and he calls us also to be lights of love and mercy that shine through the world.
We reflect the light of Christ when we reject violence in all of its forms: terrorism, war, abortion, euthanasia and other violations of human rights. All human life is sacred because it is created in the image and likeness of God and must be treated with respect.
We reflect the light of Christ when we act mercifully toward others. In this Year of Mercy, we are especially encouraged to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, such as offering care to the poor and vulnerable, forgiving injuries, comforting the sorrowful and reaching out to those most in need of God’s love and compassion. This includes welcoming refugees and immigrants who leave desperate situations in search of peace and better lives for their families.
We reflect the light of Christ when we act as peacemakers and foster respect among all people: friends and family, co-workers, people of other faiths. As Pope Francis recently said, “We must always be joyful, and with our kindness offer everyone witness of the closeness and care God has for everyone.”
I wish you and your families a blessed Christmas filled with joy, peace and the light of Christ that drives out darkness with divine love and mercy.
Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of St. Cloud