O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
I knew a girl once who had been raised Catholic but had rejected the faith. At 20, she was pretty militantly anti-religion, although I don’t think I realized it until our small talk one day turned into something more.
She was asking me about my work, so I explained her that I was a high school religion teacher.
“Wait, so do you teach them all religions? Or do you just teach them yours?”
“Well, it’s a Catholic school,” I replied affably, “so I teach Catholicism.”
The look on her face was like I had told her that I drop kick babies for sport. “How can you do that? How can you force onto young minds the idea that your beliefs are right and everybody else’s are wrong?”
I was rather taken aback by this reaction–she really thought I was doing something evil when I tried to draw young hearts to Christ. I’ve had plenty of people think my attempts to evangelize were dumb or naïve but never cruel. So I didn’t have a pat answer at hand as I do with most of the challenges I get from non-Christians or non-Catholics. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is always on his game.
“What if you had a friend who didn’t like music?” I asked this music major.
“What do you mean ‘didn’t like music’? Who doesn’t like music?”
“This guy. He’s a friend of yours–a good friend–but he just doesn’t care for music. Any music at all.”
“That’s ridiculous! I mean, has he listened to Rachmaninov? Or the Beatles? Everybody likes some kind of music.”
At this point, I’m wondering how on earth she hadn’t picked up on where I was going with this. But I kid you not–I might be fudging some details, but the trajectory of the conversation is 100% accurate.
“Actually,” I put forward, “he’s never really listened to any music. Or maybe he has, but it was all electronic stuff out of awful plastic toys. But he’s never experienced anything real, anything beautiful or moving or even catchy and pleasant. Could you be friends with him?”
“I guess I could,” she said, embracing the hypothetical. “But–I’d make him listen to music! I mean, how can he live without it? I can’t imagine life without music–it would be…worthless.”
“Because you love music that much? And it brings you that much joy, right? Not because he’s a stupid jerk for not loving music?”
“Of course not,” she said. “It’s not about being right. It’s about wanting to share something that makes me happy with someone I love.”
“Exactly.” I swear to you, she didn’t see where I was going until that moment. She started to object, but then stopped to think. I gave her a minute before continuing. “I don’t evangelize because I want to tell everybody they’re wrong and fix them so they can be like me. It’s about love. I’ve found something–someone–so beautiful that brings me so much joy. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t want to share it? I teach people about Christ and his Church because I love them and I want them to be happy.”
My music analogy didn’t convert her–as far as I know, she’s still not a Christian–but it got her thinking. And tonight, it’s got me thinking, too.
Why do I evangelize? Why do I live this crazy life? Because I know him in whom I have believed. But more than that–because once I didn’t.
I was raised with Jesus, but I rejected him early on. I didn’t know him until I was 13. And I was miserable. Cry-my-eyes-out, wish-I-was-dead miserable. The only meaning I could find in life was getting other people to like me and I wasn’t very good at that. And so, from at least 3rd grade, I spent most of my life feeling sorry for myself and wondering why I bothered to get up in the morning.
But then–oh, friends–light. I had walked so long in darkness and when I found Christ, I found meaning and joy and purpose and hope and the world was new. I had to give up all of my favorite vices. I made myself a target for the people whose approval still meant so much to me. But, incredibly, I was happy. Today, I’m a homeless, unemployed nomad. I have no husband or children. I have nothing that this world says will make me happy, but I am. Deeply, irrevocably so. Despite my tendency to freak out and my propensity for making myself miserable, my life is built on Christ and his comfort gladdens my soul.
I’m going to speak for a moment to those of you who may be reading my blog, for whatever reason, who haven’t experienced this Radiant Dawn I’m so in love with. I get it. It’s hard to believe, hard to accept what you think you can’t see. Maybe Christianity is too demanding. Maybe you enjoy your life just as it is.
But for many of you, I think there’s a darkness. There’s an emptiness, a longing that you can’t quite seem to satisfy. Oh, maybe you’re okay right now–maybe your love for your family or your service to your community or your success or whatever has taken the edge off your hunger. But I think it will be fleeting. I think you know, like I did, that something’s missing.
Forgive me for being so forward, but I can’t help it. Whether I know you or not, I love you. I really do, and I want you to be happy. I want you to be at peace. Forget the fact that I’ve been intellectually convinced of the truth of the faith–I’ve found joy and love and hope and beauty and I can’t keep that to myself. I need you to know that he loves you and longs to draw you gently into the light of a life lived in joy and peace and love. I’ve been where you are. I wouldn’t go back. Not for anything.
For the rest of you, thank God that he has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. If you’re like me, consider who you were and praise the Lord that he’s brought you so far. If you’ve never felt that deep, terrible darkness of the shadow of death, praise the Lord for having claimed you even in your youth. Wherever you were, recognize that you’re not there yet.
This is what Advent is about–reflecting on the darkness dispelled by Christ and the darkness that remains. There are still many dark places in my life, deep crevices that I keep hidden from the light of Christ. But daily he pushes me, stretches me, and brings joy and peace even there.
If you don’t know him yet, maybe now’s the time to try.
Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Here’s an early Christmas present for you:
- If only there were some way to attach one’s wristwatch to one’s wrist…. Seriously, what was wrong with me?? [↩]