I was reminded of a story by Max Lucado as I sat down last week to pray about our Christmas readings. I’ve adapted it here.
Long ago, there was a tribe of people hiding out in a dark, cold cave. They often found themselves huddled together against the chill of the outside world. They cried out for help for a long time. It was all they knew how to do. They had never known joy.
But then, one day, they heard someone entering the cave, but they could not see who it was. “I have heard your cries,” the voice announced. “I have felt your chill, and seen your darkness. I have come to help.”
The people in the cave grew quiet. They had never heard a voice as hopeful as this. But they were still suspicious. “How do we know you are telling the truth?”
Silence. The cave people peered through the darkness at the figure of the stranger. They realized he was building something.
“What are you doing?” one cried nervously.
The stranger didn’t answer.
“What are you making?” one shouted even louder.
The visitor stood tall now. “I have come to set you free.” With that he turned to the wood pile at his feet, lit a match, and dropped it.
The wood ignited, flames erupted, and light filled the darkness. But the cave people turned away in fear. “Put it out!” they cried. “Will this destroy us?”
“Just the opposite,” he answered. “But you need to draw near to feel the heat and light.”
“Not I,” declared a voice.
“Nor I,” agreed a second.
“Only a fool would risk exposing his eyes to such light.”
The stranger stood next to the fire. “I know this is not what you are used to. Maybe it’s not how other cave dwellers live. But this will change your life forever.”
For a long time no one spoke. The people hovered in groups covering their eyes. The fire builder stood next to the fire, his lips moving in a silent prayer. Slowly, one of the cave people took the long walk toward the fire. “It’s so bright,” she proclaimed when she arrived. “I can see.”
The stranger said nothing.
“It so warm!” she extended her hands and smiled as her chill left her.
“Come, everyone! Feel the warmth,” she invited.
“Silence!” cried a voice from the distant darkness. “Dare you let this stranger lead us into a trap? He must leave us, and take this fire with him.”
She turned to the stranger. “Why won’t they come?”
“Some people chose the darkness, the cold. It’s all they know.”
“And so… will they always live in the dark?”
“I’m afraid so.” The woman, now warm… but not at peace, stood silent.
“You can return to your people,” he said softly.
She paused. “I cannot. I can’t bear the cold. But nor can I bear the thought of my people in darkness.”
The stranger thought for a moment, reached into the fire and removed a stick, still flaming. “Here, carry this to your people. Show them the light, and the warmth. Explain how it’s meant for everyone.” She took the light… and turned toward the shadows.
And that is how the flame sharing began.
Christmas is a time to remember our fire, our light, our warmth. The light that began not in a cave, but a manger. To pause to consider the flame we carry within, and to ask ourselves how we have shared that which we have been given.
Christmas, in fact, is really a time we recall how God became one of us, to build a kingdom of hope, a kingdom free from suffering and fear. A kingdom of eternal joy.
It’s a time when we are reminded of the words of St. Luke,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you… who is Christ and Lord.” (Lk 2:10-11)
Wow. The Promise to David has been fulfilled in our hearing. Our salvation. I don’t know about you, but this is too big for only a one-day celebration. It’s bigger than Advent. It’s bigger than… just about anything. That is truly ‘joy to the world.’
And what that means is we are ‘on the hook’.
See, every day God is asking us to walk out of our “caves” – our fears, our anxieties, our burdens – and carry the fire of Christ to everyone in our lives – brothers, sisters, moms, dads, grandparents, friends, co-workers. Everyone in your life!
Every day God is grateful when we proclaim ‘peace on earth’, and practice good will to all men and women. Is there no better message for our times?
Every day we are called to be humble and grateful for all our gifts. For the blessings of family and friends, good food and conversation. For life!
All of that is bigger than one day, isn’t?
So, today, let’s make a deal as a community of faith. Let’s agree to try to make every day Christmas Day. Let’s follow the light and warmth, wherever it leads us. Let’s trust God, and not be afraid. Let’s celebrate new life, and new love. Let’s all trust that God will bless us, again and again, in 2017. Let us walk out of the shadows, and into the light.
The light we celebrate today. The light of Christ our Lord.