The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone. (Isaiah 9.1)

We have heard these words spoken each Christmas, but yet we can be forgiven for asking their meaning. Who are these people that Isaiah is talking about? Are they with us today? For this new year, we are being encouraged to look with optimism. Yet what we are seeing in these times does not give us much room to be optimistic. We see small farmers who can’t get credit to buy seeds for planting. We see mothers who take their children to the hospital, but there is no medicine. We see masses of humanity in need of refuge. We see young people who can’t get a job or an education, or even think of starting a family. We see people whose rivers and lakes that once provided them with food, are now poisoned, or whose lands that once sheltered a way of life are now laid bare by logging and mining.

We seem to be living with two great blocks of people: those that belong in the modern world (and they exist in every country) and those who just don’t seem to belong and are on the margins. We see more and more the tendency to set adrift these latter people. The poor on welfare are made to be the scapegoat, while government policies often favour the rich.

A look through the Gospel and we quickly see that Jesus came for the outsider – the people who do not count in our society. These are the people to whom God came to give life in abundance. Jesus’ birth is in complete poverty. Only the shepherds – the outsiders – are told the meaning of the Child’s birth. Christ came into the world so that “the people who walked in darkness” – the rejected, those who don’t seem to count – are heirs of Christ and of God’s promises.

The Gospel of Luke (1.78-79) says: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

That is why hope is alive today. In those who want to take seriously Christ and His Gospel, there is a reason to hope. In the face of so many contradictions in this world, God being with God’s suffering people is the meaning of Christmas.

Fr. Robert (Buddy) Smith, SFM, wrote this article shortly before he died in 1997 of a progressive neurological disease. He spent his life championing the cause of the poor with whom he walked in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.