One of the more interesting chapters in my life was when I chaperoned some high school students to France. It was the first, and the last time I would chaperone high school students anywhere. Among the many interesting things that we saw, one visit in particular stands out in my mind. Many people are familiar with the caves of Lascaux, because of the multicolored drawings on the walls, made thousands of years ago.While it is not possible to see the actual Caves of Lascaux today (we came to realize that too many humans breeding out carbon dioxide turn the walls black), visitors can see an exact replica near the site, made as much as possible, to be an exact replica. There are lesser known caves not too far away, with drawings even older. It was at these caves at Rouffinac where our story takes place.
I knew we were in for some excitement, when, sitting in the back of the train that was about to take us into the caves, the French guide made the following statement. “Now limestone is a very soft rock. In fact you can push your finger right through it. Don’t do it.” Now if the goal is to keep high school students from pushing their fingers into the rock, I knew that this strategy was probably not the most effective. Each of us has had the experience, I think, where we want to do something simply because we are told not to do so. I felt it was important to add my words to the words of the French guide. “Now let us remember, that the drawings we are about to see on the inside of this cave, have been here for TEN THOUSAND YEARS! We will not be known as the group that ruined the caves at Rouffinac. If so much as a finger leaves this train, so help me I will CUT OFF YOUR ARM!”
Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit. But truth be told, I felt I should make a strong effort to impress upon the students the importance of respect for work that was tens of thousands of years old. And so into the cave we went. After a while, the train came to a stop, and the French guide all excited opened his arms wide and said “Look, there it is”. Just like the students, I was a little confused. This stretch of wall that we were being encouraged to look at by an excited travel guide did not appear to be any different than any of the other walls we had seen up to this point. And then, delighted in his own little joke, the guide pulled out a very small penlight flashlights and held parallel to the wall. What became clear were etchings on the wall that told the story.
But actually, the most exciting part of the tour was yet to come. Continuing on our journey, we stopped at another place, where the guide turned out all of the lights. For the first time in my life, I had the experience of pitch black. It was so dark, that holding my hands in front of my face, I could not see them. My first thought, were myriads of adolescent fingers poking holes in the limestone walls. But I was caught up in something I had never quite realized before. You can have light, or darkness, but not both. But we typically refer to as darkness, is simply a period where there is very low light. Light and darkness are mutually exclusive.
Such is the power of the commemoration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ we celebrate today. The people, walking in darkness, have seen a great light. At a time of year, where darkness seems the most powerful, we celebrate the arrival of the light of Christ. We too realize one cannot have light and darkness. We walked as children of the light or as children of darkness. But not both.
Let us walk as children of the light, for indeed, there is much darkness around us. We have children killing children in large American cities like Chicago. We have ongoing violence throughout the Arab world and in other places where people escape, just to live. We have too many people in our country and around the world who do not have the basic needs of their lives met. We have too many communities who seek to make sense of the senseless, who try to heal from the broken events of the darkness. For us, it may be the darkness of loneliness, illness, mourning, loss, hurtful experiences, a lost job, significant expenses that we are not sure to meet. And in our own personal lives, sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the darkness.
In our lives, we can find ourselves confronted with a terminal illness in ourselves or in someone we love, Beacon Hill swallowed by the darkness. Struggling in a relationship with the spouse or a son or daughter or someone we don’t even know very well, can make us feel like the darkness wins but regardless, what we celebrate today is that light has overcome the darkness. We celebrate Christ is our light. The celebrate their profound act of love, God becomes one like us, one with us, Emmanuelle. And so, we walked as people of the light, being reminded again of the closeness of our God and God’s profound love.