It was just a small photo my dad texted me the other day. Around the tiny pine cone tree that stood proudly on their kitchen table he and mom had strung an equally tiny string of white lights. For what is a Christmas tree without lights?
What is Christmas without the star blazing in the night, announcing the glory of the news of the Messiah’s birth?
As we drove home after dark Sunday with strains of music from the Christmas concert performed by our choir still in my heart, I felt an almost child-like wonder at the lights that stood as solitary sentinels in the darkened windows of the homes in our neighborhood. House after house was trimmed in light. In just a few days we will decorate our own convent with nativity scenes and a tree, with symbols of the Christmas story…and with light.
I still remember near our convent in Metairie Al Copeland’s house on Folse Drive that attracted carloads of visitors from near and far in December to see the thousands of lights that filled every inch of their yard. The owners moved out in October while their property was prepared by a professional Christmas decorator with a unique theme for this December extravaganza of light which brings out the wonder in both kids and adults alike.
We turn on the lights after dark. Lights are more visible in the night. It dispels the night. Stars are only visible in the night sky. So even as Christmas is celebrated with lights, on a deeper level it is so because there is darkness.
St Augustine wrote:
Wake up, O human being! For it was for you that God was made man. Rise up and realize it was all for you. Eternal death would have awaited you had He not been born in time. Never would you be freed from your sinful flesh had He not taken to Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. Everlasting would be your misery had He not performed this act of mercy. You would not have come to life again had He not come to die your death. You would have perished had He not come.
…The background of darkness to the birth of the Light of the World celebrated on Christmas night…
To be honest, this Christmas is a little different for me. My parents have moved and our family home of over fifty years has been torn down to make room for a bigger McMansion. It came as a surprise to me, that my childhood memories of Christmas are so tied to a place, to that childhood home. When that place is gone, these tinseled memories no longer hold their magic. In their stead, grows the will to love, to serve, to give, to please, to sacrifice for the other.
When love grows, light grows. When light grows the darkness fades. Or if the dark stubbornly refuses to budge, as in a situation for which there is no real possibility for change, the light blazes with courageous intensity so that the dark is merely the precipitating factor of our glory.
Come, then, says St John Chrysostom, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.
From the darkness of misery the glory of salvation blazes forth.
So this Christmas, with every light you see, be aware of the darkness that is dispelled by its twinkling beauty and Rejoice!
As children scramble after the one gift that really, really want, step back and wonder at the Child who brought us the one gift that is commemorated by this holiest of days: salvation. And Rejoice!
When you bear the burden of a dark sorrow in your own heart or in another’s, a sadness that will not budge, stand bravely in the night with the flame of faith in the God who is with us: Emmanuel.
This Christmas, not only wonder at the beauty of our man-made lights that are strung in every place we look, but be the Christmas star that points the way in the night for someone else to the Christ-child’s manger.
We consider Christmas as the encounter, the great encounter, the historical encounter, the decisive encounter, between God and mankind. He who has faith knows this truly; let him rejoice.
POPE PAUL VI, speech, Dec. 23, 1965
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