Habakkuk 2:1-4; Psalm 126; Hebrews 10:35—11:1; John 20:24-29
The days are getting longer. At 11:47 AM yesterday the earth’s axial tilt reached its furthest extremity from the sun: the annual winter solstice. In this brief moment something big happens. The days stop getting shorter and start getting longer—light begins to return to the northern hemisphere after months of increasing darkness.
Christmas is placed just a few days after the astronomical event—long enough that we can say for sure that light has returned! We can see with our own eyes that the days are beginning to get longer; there is light in the world. The day of the solstice, the moment of doubt we give to St. Thomas. Light should be returning now, but we’re not absolutely sure. Calculations show that the solstice should have happened yesterday (Thomas’s actual feast day), but we need concrete evidence. By Christmas Day keen observation will confirm that, yes, beyond a doubt, light has returned. There is light in the world, darkness has not overwhelmed it.
The moment of doubt, the day of solstice itself, is St. Thomas’ day. The metaphor is fairly obvious: Thomas has been in the darkness of doubt and has just begun to see in the light of faith. I actually find Thomas a very sympathetic character and don’t think he had anything to be ashamed of. Like Thomas, most people are inclined to some level of skepticism and we like having reasons to believe.
Perhaps you’ve had some kind of St. Thomas experience where your faith has been confirmed by some kind of “evidence”. One of mine was a colorful little episode in my young adulthood. It was in a little red brick bungalo next to the Illinois Central Railroad in Champaign, Illinois, where I lived. The home of the Rev. Hallie Armand, a very elderly black lady who was a minister of the Spiritualist Church—that is, she was a medium. Rev. Armand, as she was called, held weekly services in a tiny room in her house for half a dozen or so of her following. Somehow I got involved in this for a while. I was not a church-goer at the time.
It was not the kind of Spiritualism that depends on accomplices and secret wires and cheesecloth. She actually began group meditations by telling us all to “place our minds on Jesus.” That would be after singing something like “In the Garden” or “This Little Light of Mine” and praying the “which art in heaven” version of the Lord’s Prayer. One of Rev. Armand’s followers believed she was the reincarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I thought this was a stretch, even in my callow youth, but to my recollection, Rev. Armand never said anything to disabuse her of this notion.
One day I met with Rev. Armand for a private “reading”. She spent a little time in meditation and then told me what she saw. When she was finished she asked if I had any questions. I paused. First I thought I’d ask her if there really was life after death, but then realized the absurdity of asking a medium such a question. Just then, precisely then, she broke the silence and spoke: “I see a grandmother come down now, standing right next to you. She says to tell that there is, indeed, life eternal.” I was impressed.
I have other “reasons” for believing in Resurrection, in eternal life. I believe in the Resurrection partly as a matter of faith, and partly as a matter of reason. It is, by my observation, very difficult to get people organized and galvanized around anything, especially over a long period of time. And the bigger the “anything” is, the more oomph it takes to get the thing going. The Christian movement virtually exploded onto the world stage in a cultural context hostile to its core features and has only gained traction as it has advanced in history. So, my mind reasons, there had to have been a big bang—a really big bang to get this thing off the ground. Some kind of spectacular event—like Resurrection.
But the core experience of faith is deeper and more subtle and does not transmit by way of reason. I think my own life of faith was profoundly influenced by watching a television program, a documentary about Mother Teresa that I saw perhaps 25 or 30 years ago. I haven’t seen it since then, but in my memory the documentary begins with a scene of warfare somewhere—the Middle East, perhaps. And the voice-over begins with these words: “There is a light in the world.”
Then, against the backdrop of human suffering, violence and failure unfolds the story of this most unusual saint and her work among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. A life of overflowing kindness, a life of overflowing and gratuitous love and service. That such a life witness, that such love is possible in the context of our very broken humanity impressed me deeply. I had to agree, “There is a light in the world.” There is a light in the world, this world, even now. And this light has its source in life itself and the source of all life. Something was transmitted to me in this woman’s witness, something of this light, something of this life, which the darkness cannot overwhelm.
Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:9 that faith is a gift of the Spirit. The faith we have is the faith the Spirit has given us. Looking back from the perspective of years we can sometimes see key moments in our life of faith, moments when we seem to have been touched by the Spirit and given the gift of faith. And isn’t it usually through another person? The Spirit gives us the gift of faith, but usually, it seems to me, through another person. It could be Mother Teresa. It could be you or me.
It’s the season of gift giving. Perhaps you will be the Spirit’s means of giving the gift of faith—perhaps to someone you know, perhaps to a complete stranger. “Let your light so shine…”, he tells us. There is tremendous power in light shone, goodness done, kindness expressed. There is tremendous power in love incarnated. Mother Teresa knew that.
Let us pray.
Lord, you have spoken life to us, you speak life to us even now, and we know you shall always speak life to us, even unto eternity. Now we ask one thing more: that you speak life through us.
Lord, you have spoken light to us, you speak light to us even now, and we know you shall always speak light to us. Now we ask one thing more: that you speak light through us.
Our Lord and our God, you have spoken love to us, you speak love to us even now, and we know your Eternal Word shall always speak love to us. Now we ask yet one thing more: that you speak love through us.
Even unto eternity, world without end.
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