It was a gift. A very special gift, a 1.6 carat diamond ring. It was tucked into a burgundy-colored box with gold piping and a gold clasp. The ring was placed inside a briefcase to be presented to a loved one at a later time.

That gift, an engagement ring, was never given by the owner, for it was carried upon TWA Flight 800, the tragic airliner which crashed in flames several minutes after take-off on July 17, 1996. In an instant, the ring was lost, adrift in a sea of sorrow.

Probably no story of that sad event was more poignant or moving than that of Julie Stuart, the woman to whom that gift was supposed to go.  Her fiancé, Andrew, happened to be on that flight. He was flying ahead to Paris to meet Julie later on for their engagement. What must it be like to have all sorts of plans and hopes and dreams for the future suddenly and tragically dashed in a matter of moments?

How do you recover? How do you keep going ahead? How do you find the courage and the hope?

Sadly, the story of Julie Stuart is just one of many tragedies that transpire in our world, stories that are played out each and every day on the evening news. Loss, difficulty, sickness, disease, war, oppression, despair. Day in and day out. And so it has been down through the ages, the story of humankind is one long story of darkness.

And in the midst of all of this, we, who call our- selves Christians dare to light a flame.  We dare to celebrate in the very dead of winter.

We rejoice and we revel, we sing and we laugh. Because on this day, Christmas Day, we know that, whatever the sadness, whatever the difficulty, whatever the pain, whatever the loss, Christ is born. “For unto us a Child is born, a son is given.” “Unto those who dwelt in dark- ness, a light has shown!”

This is not an escape. This is not avoidance. This is not an evasion. We don’t dull our senses with Christmas cheer, as if the sadness never existed. That should not be and cannot be what Christianity stands for.  Our religion is not, as Karl Marx famously said, our opiate, our drug. Instead our faith allows us to look straight into the eyes of evil; it allows us to face steadfastly misfortune and sorrow. And why? Because we know that our God has visited us. Our God knows our weakness. Our God knows our pain. Our God knows what we know. For our God was one of us. He leapt down from the heavens and made his dwelling among us, showing himself to poor, simple shepherds.

Our churches at Christmas are ablaze with candles, reminders of the light which came into the world. They are also challenges to carry the light of Christ out into the world — a world so often filled with darkness. One tiny light lit 2000 years ago continues to light the way for men and women even today.  The Lord of Light, the Gift of God, the Christ. And so we must light the way for others in our own little imperfect ways.

Right before Christmas in 1996, the ring that Julie Stuart was to receive from her fiancé was returned to her by the FBI. It seems improbable that they could recover such a small item out of the vast sea, but they did. And even though it is not quite the ending she had hoped for, I am certain that she will wear that ring as a lasting sign of the love that she shared with Andrew. Even in the saddest of situations, there is always hope, there is always life. It reminds us that no matter what may come our way — because our God chose to come into our world, darkness will not defeat us.

There is light after all.

We search for what was lost in a sea of sad- ness, and, on this day, we discover the gift that reminds us how loved we are.

God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. If he gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it.” –Pope Francis

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