By NANCY DE FLON, Catholic News Service | Published December 21, 2017
The highlight of Christmas, for me, is hearing the reading from Isaiah (9:1-6) proclaimed at the Mass during the night: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”
The absence of daylight streaming in through the windows reinforces the sense of darkness and thereby makes this “great light” even more meaningful.
Light images pervade the Christmas season liturgy—especially light that pierces the darkness. It is a metaphor for the new life, hope and peace overcoming the darkness of seeming hopelessness and futility.
What is this “great light” of which Isaiah speaks? He continues: “A child is born to us, a son is given us …. They name him … Prince of Peace.”
Christian tradition understands this Prince of Peace as Christ, who proclaims himself the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12). No wonder the liturgy is suffused with this image during these dark winter days!
The response to the psalm for the Christmas Mass at dawn promises: “A light will shine on us this day: The Lord is born for us.”
And consider the shepherds in Luke’s Gospel (at the Mass during the night): Suddenly an angel appears above their coal-dark fields and “the glory of the Lord shone around them” while the angel proclaims “good news of great joy,” the birth of the Savior. Meanwhile, John, in his Gospel (Christmas Mass during the day, 1:1-18), tells us that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The Canticle of Zechariah, sung each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours, draws the themes of light and peace together. Zechariah prophesies that through the birth of the Lord “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
I like the way the canticle uses another metaphor from nature—“the dawn from on high”—for the light that is coming into the world.
Notable by its absence from the Christmas liturgies is this prophetic passage from Tobit (13:11): “A bright light will shine to the limits of the earth. Many nations will come to you from afar … Bearing in their hands gifts for the King of heaven.”
But it is tellingly fulfilled in the Gospel for the Epiphany, in which the story of the Magi emphasizes the universality of Christ’s mission. To be a true Prince of Peace, Christ must rule over all people, for the peace he brings will be realized when all accept his reign.
Remember, then, when you turn on your Christmas lights, whether a single candle in a window or a blaze of colors encircling your tree, that you are proclaiming Christ, the “great light” and Prince of Peace who has overcome the darkness of the world.
The reason for our joy
“Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes,” Pope Francis said in a Christmas midnight Mass homily 2016.
“Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight we have been shown the way to reach the journey’s end,” he said, and “we must set out to see our savior lying in a manger.”
The reason for our joy: “This child has been ‘born to us’; he was ‘given to us,’” Pope Francis explained, quoting the prophet Isaiah.
And now, 2,000 years later, “every man and woman” has been given the mission of making “the Prince of Peace” known and of “becoming his effective servant in the midst of the nations,” he said.
“We must not be laggards,” the pope cautioned, “we are not permitted to stand idle.”
And when we hear of the birth of the Prince of Peace, he said, “let us be silent and let the child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face. If we take him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by him, he will bring us unending peace of heart,” he said.
“This child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives,” Pope Francis said.
De Flon is editor-at-large at Paulist Press and the author of “The Joy of Praying the Psalms.”