On this last day of the calendar year, the beginning of the Gospel of John reminds us that “What came to be through [God] was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
As humans, we spend an inordinate amount of time seemingly intent on extinguishing that light. We trudge through Advent and Christmas, buying, wrapping, giving, tossing away, waiting for it to be over, sorry when it is, barely pausing to give simply of ourselves or to reflect, and often not liking what we see reflected back to us when we do. Like birds flying into panes of glass, we are transfixed by the twinkling lights on trees and in shop windows, then are stunned to realize (if we do realize) that we’ve substituted the bright and shiny for the soft, fierce glow of God’s love for us. Ever-present, freely given, it is not something to be dragged to the curb on Epiphany or packed and shelved for another year, until we hear the first strains of carols in the drug store and groan that it comes earlier and earlier, yet we’re never ready. God is ready for us, patiently waiting.
We excel at smothering God’s light in other ways, too, at times on a global scale. In Ukraine, millions celebrated Christmas by candlelight, cold, afraid, exiled, a modern Holy Family in the stable. And yet their defiance, their faith, their spirit a carpet of sunflowers, turning toward the sun, will not be extinguished. They shine ever brighter for the darkness that tries to envelop them.
On the southern border of the United States, thousands of migrants, fleeing violence and poverty at home, wait for a chance at life in a country of promise, of hope, of opportunity. More holy families, seeking refuge, turned out in the cold again, and again.
This New Year’s Eve, we do well to recall that to be Christian is to be Christ-like, like Christ, who entered the world a poor, homeless, helpless babe and who died on a cross, widening his arms to embrace the lost and the least. That is a light we cannot extinguish and that will not be overcome.
Julie Bourbon is senior writer at Catholic Charities USA. She worked previously for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and the Jesuit Conference, and has written for National Catholic Reporter.