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Father Vincent Hawkswell

Why Christmas is the season of light

Voices Dec. 17, 2018

“Light is an integral part of Christmas,” reflecting the beauty of God, writes Father Hawkswell. Visitors at a holiday light installation at Kew Gardens in London. (CNS photo/Toby Melville, Reuters)

Christmas, Year C 
First Reading: midnight Isa 9:2-4, 6-7; dawn Isa 62:11-12; day Isa 52:7-10 
Second Reading: midnight Tit 2:11-14; dawn Tit 3:4-7; day Heb 1:1-6 
Gospel Reading: midnight Lk 2:1-16; dawn Lk 2:15-20; day Jn 1:1-18 

The liturgy of Christmas abounds with images of light.

“Father, you make this holy night radiant with the splendour of Jesus Christ our light. We welcome him as Lord, the true light of the world.”

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shone.”

“A light will shine on us this day; the Lord is born for us.”

“Father, we are filled with the new light by the coming of your Word among us. May the light of faith shine in our words and actions.”

“Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.”

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it ... The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

The Book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning, “the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss ... Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” and “God saw how good the light was.”

Originally, Adam and Eve saw God and walked with him in the garden. However, by distrusting and disobeying him, they wrapped themselves and all their descendants in thick dark fog. At Christmas Jesus comes among us, the true light which drives away the darkness and enlightens us all.

Now scientifically, light is not something we see; rather, it is something by which we see everything else. When light enters our eyes, we see not the light itself, but its source. That being the case, we can interpret Psalm 36 – which says that in God’s light “we see light itself” – to mean that God’s light is brighter than even the brightest natural light.

Our world today asserts that religion is, above all, private. We must never let it affect our real-life decisions, for it is a mere idiosyncrasy which other people do not share. As someone said to an accountant I knew when he refused to sign a false statement, “God’s all very well, but you don’t have to let him rule your life!”

On the contrary, the liturgy of the Christmas season claims that it is only “in Christ” – that is, as a member of his Mystical Body – that we can see reality at all. Before Christ’s birth, we stumbled in the dark; now the light has dawned.

No wonder that light is an integral part of Christmas. We light candles, one more each week, on the Advent wreath. We outline our homes and churches in lights. No Christmas tree is complete without lights.

Some of us take an evening to drive about the city looking at the lights. The intention behind them may be secular, but, after all, God created light, and he saw that it was good. Man-made Christmas lights reflect the beauty of God; we can use them to recall the beauty of their Creator, whose light can enlighten even light.

In her poem Sabbath Morning at Sea, Elizabeth Barrett Browning pictures the sea reflecting the sun. You know how bright it can be: almost as bright as the sun, far too bright to look at. However, she says, God “shall assist me to look higher,” to the place where the saints, “with harp and song,” keep “an endless sabbath morning,” merely dropping their eyes occasionally to that sea which, even “commixed with fire,” is less bright than “the full Godhead’s burning.”

According to the poet Dante, whom Pope John Paul II has quoted, “That light doth so transform a man’s whole bent, that never to another sight or thought would he surrender with his own consent; for everything the will has ever sought is gathered there, and there is every quest made perfect, which apart from it falls short.”