At the Mid-Night Christmas Mass the 1st reading is from Isaiah, Chapter 9, and includes these lines: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed . . . For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
If we forget that prophecy, we will only obliquely understand today’s Gospel when Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
What is it like in our time to be a people who walk in darkness? Pope Benedict this week commented on his 60 years as a priest. He summed it up as friendship with the Lord, a friendship the Lord offers to all people. And what is this friendship like? “He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more. Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself.”
It is in this kind of relationship with God that we discover the light that conquers the darkness and in Him we who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; and we find our burdens very much lightened.
The darkness of our time is humanity’s leaving God out of the equation. For many people today no longer harbor a terrible hostility to God. It is rather that God and religion have become irrelevant. In the zeitgeist of our time, the arbiter on what is true and good is solely what man is capable of. If we can select the sex of a child, then well and good. If we can eliminate any observable consequences for our living according to the flesh, satisfying our passions without restraint, then well and good. Sin is left in the dust as a vestige of the past. Why? Because a disconnect has happened between the way we live our lives and a relationship with God. The Lord is no longer sought as the way, the truth and the life, because all that matters is my way, my truth, and the happiness I can find for my life. And happiness is divorced from meaningfulness and is attached to material wellbeing.
This is the darkness of our time: God is left out of the equation and has been replaced by self-love. God, for many people of our time, is not much of a consideration. And a relationship with God is not even thought of. That is the darkness of our time. It is a yoke with a heavy burden because those things that lift us up and make us free are not the physical things of the material world, but the unseen things like nobility, integrity, authentic living, faith, hope and love, especially love. The absence of emphasis on these immaterial realities produces an emptiness, even when surrounded by material wellbeing.
The result is a heavy yoke that many are burdened with, even though they do not think of it as a burden. It is the absence ultimately of meaning, with no answer to the ultimate questions everyone sooner or later must come to terms with: who am I? why do I exist? what is the meaning of my life? what is the meaning of suffering? what happens at death? When we do not think of God, we arrive at a point of realizing that we carry our yoke by ourselves, and we are left to sink into our alone-ness, our isolation. It is a state of turning within and living without meaning. This is the heaviest burden to bear: to be alone and to have no meaning.
Salvation, however is to be found in the relationship we can have with God in Christ. But even the word, salvation, is a word that makes little sense in today’s world. That too is part of the darkness of our time.
Instead of that kind of burdened darkness, in the pope’s reflection on the past 60 years, he said, "The Lord challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of our own world and to bring the Gospel to the world of others, so that it pervades everything and hence the world is opened up for God’s kingdom. We are reminded that even God stepped outside himself, he set his glory aside in order to seek us, in order to bring us his light and his love. We want to follow the God who sets out in this way, we want to move beyond the inertia of self-centeredness, so that he himself can enter our world."
So my friends, take the yoke of human existence upon your shoulders with Jesus as your yoke-mate. Let him be your light in the darkness. And bring this good news to everyone you know.