DECEMBER 24, 2016—Written by Fr Martin Henry, Catholic visiting priest at St Bernardine of Siena in Woodland Hills, California
It’s slightly ironic that the Son of God, the “light of the world,” whose birthplace we anticipate in Advent, should have been born not during the hours of daylight, but in the middle of the night. From earliest times, Christian thinkers saw a deep symbolic meaning in the circumstances of Christ’s birth.
In calling Christ, who was born during the hours of darkness, The Light of the World, the early Christians knew that with the birth of Christ a light had come into their world that was of a different order from the natural light of the sun.
The source of the light of Christ brought, the source of the light he incarnated, was not natural, but supernatural. It was a light that came directly from God. It was not the created light of the sun, but the saving light of God; not fundamentally, the “light of creation,” but the “light of redemption.”
But the early Christians knew that night or darkness is also a symbol of the frequent darkness of human history. And in seeing Christ’s light as illuminating the darkness, they believed that the light of Christ was a force that none of the darkness of this world could ever overcome, as St John was to put it in the opening chapter of the gospel. It was this faith that they passed on to subsequent generations of Christians: the realization that, no matter how terrible or awful human history may be or become, it can never overpower or extinguish the light of Christ.
This simple, but profound Christian faith that came into the world roughly two thousand years ago, has admittedly not driven away all the shadows of our world, but has continued to shine throughout the past two millennia. And it can continue to illuminate our path through the “night of the world,” as St Augustine once put it, and leads us all into the full daylight of God’s kingdom in heaven.
The good news of Christmas is that the Son of God who became incarnate for us on that first Christmas night almost two thousand years ago is also God’s promise that humanity’s long journey through the night of history will not have been in vain.
I wish you a blessed last day of Advent (December 24th) and a peaceful Christmas.
Fr Martin Henry