God Is Light, And In Him Is No Darkness (1 John 1:5)
|Christmas lights remind us that Christ is The Light|
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of Eternal Light,
Sun of Justice;
Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death.
Now in my case the advent candles have all given way to Christmas candles, and I would prefer not to use one of the “O Antiphons”, since they are so closely connected to Advent. I understand why they make the suggestion, however, because at this point in the Christmas season it is appropriate to start extending our joy at the coming of Jesus to contemplation of Who and What He is. The identification of the Messiah with Light is deeply embedded in the Tradition, as in the well-known passage from Isaiah that also figures prominently in our observance of Advent:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
We also see it in the opening of John’s Gospel, as a part of what is perhaps the most important New Testament passage for understanding Jesus Christ:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
Light has also been a big part of our liturgical practices, as anyone who has attended the Easter Vigil can attest, and this also goes back to the beginning: from the earliest days of the Church, the priest has traditionally celebrated Mass ad orientem, “toward the rising (Sun)” (which, sadly, is most often no longer done in the Ordinary Form of the Mass). Not coincidentally, in the antiphon quoted above, the English words “O Radiant Dawn” are a translation of the Latin O Oriens.
You may notice our Texts and our Tradition spend more time and effort telling us that Christ is Light than in explaining how and why. There are certainly connections that immediately spring to mind: darkness is emptiness, sin, despair, death; light is abundance, purity, love, life. But these only scratch the surface, and often we come to a true understanding of something, and really absorb it, by working with it and wrestling with it. I propose that we observe the Sixth Day of Christmas by praying over the passages of Scripture above (and others like them), by lighting up our Christmas candles, and thinking about the ways in which Christ is Light, about what that means for us and for our lives, and how we make that Light a reality for others. Merry Christmas!