The message of Christmas threads itself throughout the Scriptures during these first weeks of the New Year. God is present to the world and acting in a new way through the Child proclaimed by angels, adored by shepherds and magi and given to all through the faith and trust of the Virgin. This Child will grow to be named the Beloved Son of God, baptized by John who reminds us that he is also the "lamb of God" destined to live a life of turmoil. But he will also be the "light in the darkness" calling us to repent - to radically change our lives - in order to make visible the reign of God.
This call comes anew again and again. To answer it means a newness of life, as it did for those first disciples. It requires severing old ways of thinking and acting. It means putting aside our self-focused values and taking on a new way of seeing ourselves and our world.
And it requires a choice. It requires putting faith into practice. Like Peter and Andrew, and James and John, we are called to be fishers of people. We are all called to minister and proclaim, as did Isaiah, "Anguish has taken wing, darkness is dispelled." How we respond to His call is the measure by which the Good News of Salvation is spread throughout our world.
Throughout most of our lives, we are surrounded by the darkness of "bad news:" the futility and slaughter of war, the miseries of poverty, the stressed environment, the divide between races and religions, the conflicts across national borders, the sick left untended, the aged neglected and the killing of the unborn. In many ways we are "overshadowed by" and quite aware of death on a large, communal scale as we watch the devastation of natural forces, but also in our individual lives, insignificant from a world perspective, but so very important to us.
But the "good news" is that God is with us in the darkness; He stays with us, patiently and persistently. There is light in the darkness. This light has not left us when darkness has threatened to overwhelm us. It guides our lives so that we can be a witness, in word and deed, to what we believe for those who are in the darkness of loneliness and guilt, indifference, aggression intolerance and all the other signs of death.
The first disciples dropped everything and left to follow Jesus immediately. For most of us, the call to follow Jesus has not nearly been as dramatic. There was no special moment, as in today's Gospel, when He approached us and asked us to be His disciples. Most of us were baptized, and raised as Catholics in our younger days. We went through the motions of prayer and church and sacraments. We learned the basics of Christian doctrine. And maybe after some years of questioning and wandering, or maybe just laziness and indifference, we reached a point in our adult life when we began to take our Catholic faith seriously.
Maybe we're too busy, too preoccupied to recognize the power and the beauty of the Holy Spirit abiding in us. But if we're not conscious of that incredible gift, if we don't celebrate the presence of the Spirit every day - even in the midst of the darkness - and make His power and goodness known in our speech, our attitudes and our decisions, then no one will be able to recognize the Good News that we are sent to proclaim in His name.
The first disciples dropped everything and left to follow Jesus immediately. In a certain sense, we too need to recognize the immediacy of His call, the importance of His message for today's world.
We are called to seek and find His goodness, His truth, and His love in all persons, and to connect with them eagerly. We need to reevaluate and understand our role as church - as intended by Jesus - to be that of herald, proclaimer, model and catalyst. Constant dialogue and interaction must be the hallmarks of our community, bringing about continual change and transformation, which, as Cardinal Newman said more than a century ago, is the only path to eventual perfection.
It will not be easy. It is never easy. It was not easy for the John the Baptist, arrested and eventually executed. It wasn't easy for the first disciples who left the security of their daily lives to follow and to proclaim. But that must not deter us from our dreams and our efforts at renewal and conversion:. To do anything less would be pure selfishness, a tragic sign that we care only for ourselves and not about those future generations who, with us, are church.
The Christmas message resonates every day of our lives. The Lord sends us an urgent invitation to participate in important work to bring the Light into the Darkness. The Kingdom is at hand - and this is "good news."