By Monsignor Philip Behan
Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher and mystic, delighted in telling the story of a Rabbi in Jerusalem. One day, a young student of the Rabbi came running into the Rabbi’s study.
“Rabbi, Rabbi! It is true. The Messiah has finally come!” the student announced.
The Rabbi calmly rose from his chair and walked over to this window. He pulled aside the curtains and looked carefully up and down the street. He then said to the excited student that nothing seemed to have changed and he quietly returned to his work.
The Messiah has indeed come, but what difference has this made in our daily lives, in our neighborhoods, and in our world? Should the Rabbi look out this window over the next few weeks he would see lights, decorations, trees and he would hear good wishes and songs such as “Joy to the World” and “Peace on Earth:” but what would he see on December 26 or January 15 or February or next July on a hot summer day?
Soon we will see the Advent Wreath in our parish churches. The candles lighted over the four weeks of Advent invite each of us to be a light of hope, mercy and love in the streets of our neighborhoods. So much darkness prevails, you and I are called to be light. A candle is very fragile – easily broken – yet it is truly powerful. All the darkness in the world can’t extinguish the light of one candle. The candles on our church wreath light up our path as we journey through Advent.
But since they are made of perishable wax, the four-week journey is a costly one for them. As they shed light they are consumed and grow shorter. They pay a price for giving light for the journey and helping us not lose our way. So, see these little candles as a powerful symbol of the life of service to which you and I are called as followers of Jesus, our Messiah. A loving and merciful person is a candle. Love makes people like Blessed Mother Teresa and Pope Francis luminous, as we saw in his recent visit to our nation. They are like a lamp light shining on all – not just some followers. Pope Francis challenged us all in Congress: “Let us seek for others the same possibilities we seek for ourselves. Let us help others grow as we would like to be helped ourselves.” He showed himself as a bridge builder which is what Pontiff or Pontifex means. Tear down the walls of division and build bridges.
Those who love shed light all around them even though, like the penny candle, it costs them dearly. Without people like that in every parish our world would be a much darker and sadder place. In the middle of our wreath stands a white candle which we will light on Christmas night and during the Christmas season. This represents Jesus, made of the same perishable material as ourselves, yet, he is “the light no darkness can overpower,” as St. John says at beginning of his Gospel. Jesus took on our wax and paid the ultimate price burning himself out in love. He gave His life for you and me. The light of Jesus still shines today. The day of your Baptism you were given a lighted candle calling you in out of darkness into the wonderful light of God’s Son (1Pet 2:9). We must let our light shine every day.
The clearest and brightest light is the light of love which always seeks the good of the other. Without that light the world is a very dark place. Love lights up everything. It brings hope to a world darkened by violence, hatred, racism, selfishness, and indifference.
Advent is a marvelous opportunity to make our world a brighter place. How? Through small words and deeds of mercy, kindness and service. May this Advent and Christmas be the beginning of a new morning for all of us as the days grow shorter and there is less sunlight. Has the Messiah’s coming made a difference? Is our world becoming a better place for all? Let your candle shine not just in Advent but every day of your life.
Monsignor Philip Behan is the Pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Loma Linda.