View all Posts |
You Matter: Second Meditation
Christ Is Your Light
- Life Without Light
- God’s Lamps
- The Lord Is My Light
Life Without Light
The second Mass that every priest is permitted to celebrate on Christmas is the Sunrise Mass. But we
can only celebrate it if we get up early enough to do so around dawn. And that’s significant, because the ancient prayers and readings of this Mass share one common theme: Christ is our light.
The opening prayer of this Mass describes our experience of Christmas as one of being suffused with light. Here is what the priest prays:
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, as we are bathed
in the new radiance of your incarnate Word, the light of faith, which illumines our minds, may also shine through in our deeds.
Years after Christ’s birth, in his public life, he will return to this theme of light and claims it as one of his unique and revelatory titles: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
We are so used to this image and this symbolism that we kind of take it for granted. But have you ever thought deeply about light, what it is, what it does, what it brings?
Imagine a world without light. Pitch blackness, all the time. No beautiful sunsets, no beautiful views, no colors, no images, no photographs of loved ones, no conversations looking into a friend’s eyes, no smiles to warm our hearts… How different our lives would be without light! What an impact light has on every aspect of our lives!
When Jesus comes into the world to be the light of the world, he is claiming to make that much of a difference — but spiritually.
Until Jesus came, we didn’t know God. Even the Israelites had a limited understanding of God. And the ancient religions had a vague notion that there must be a divine realm, but that’s about it.
Their pantheons and their myths were sincere but blind efforts to enter into a relationship with an unknown God.
As St. Paul described it, they were people who could not see God and so ended up simply, and at best, “feeling their way towards him” (Acts 17:27).
But now Jesus has come to us, and he reveals God, just as turning on a light in a darkened room reveals everything in the room.
And yet, light, in the ancient world and in the Bible, was never only a visual thing.
Before electricity, the only way you could get light was with fire of some kind. And fire is always warm. Light always brought illumination, but it also always brought warmth, and life.
The first thing God created, in fact, was light, and with it, the conditions for life itself, the warmth of existence. Imagine what life would be like without warmth — there would be no life, no movement, no exchange, no building, no growing…
Spiritually, Jesus, our Light, not only shows us who God is, like a professor explaining something on a chalkboard, but he brings God into our lives, and our hearts quicken with new life, new hope, new energy, new fire.
Jesus tells us that God is love, that God is mercy, that God is interested in us — and he brings that love, that mercy, that interest into our lives, into our experience.
This is why St. Paul can describe Christmas, in the Second Reading for this Mass, as the day “when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared” (Titus 3:4).
This is why the shepherds leave the little stable-cave at Bethlehem “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
They had heard and seen, they had experienced, a new creation, a new revelation, a wholly new and unimagined manifestation of God’s commitment to them, of God’s desire to be with them: Emmanuel.
Mass at Dawn celebrates this. It celebrates the Dawn of a new period in the history of the universe — as the Responsorial Psalm puts it: “A light will shine on us this day: the Lord is born for us.”
Our faith, our acceptance of Jesus and all he reveals, is what opens up our lives to receive this new light, with its brightness and its life-giving warmth. Through the centuries, one of the favorite symbols in Christian art for the virtue of faith was a woman holding a lit oil lamp.
In our churches today, we often still use oil lights as sanctuary lamps.
This same symbolism is used during the Easter Vigil Mass, with the lighting of the Paschal Candle and the passing of that light from person to person throughout the Church.
When we celebrate Mass, we are required by Church law to have living flames, candles or oil lamps, on the altar — electric light bulbs don’t count.
The living flame, giving off its illumination and its warmth, burning itself out in order to give light to those all around it, is still a powerful symbol of Jesus.
And it is also a powerful symbol of what each Christian is called to be. The prayer over the offerings for this Mass at Dawn expresses it beautifully:
May our offerings be worthy, we pray, O Lord, of the mysteries of the Nativity this day, that, just as Christ was born a man and also shone forth as God, so these earthly gifts may confer on us what is divine.
When we were baptized, the light of Christ was lit in our souls.
At confirmation, the lamp was enlarged and strengthened.
Whenever we receive the Eucharist, the light is increased — our lamp is refilled with oil.
If we happen to expose the flame to the harsh winds of sin, we come to confession to light it up again.
We have this light: it burns in our souls; it is ours. Jesus is our light, we have him in our hearts, in our minds, in the very core of our being. The only thing that can put it out is sin — and even sin doesn’t have to have the last word.
This is why St. Paul was able to write to the Romans:
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
￼￼What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?. . . No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:35-39
We matter to God — you matter to God, so much, in fact, that he has come to be your light, and nothing can ever change that.
The Lord Is My Light
When did you first see the light of Christ? When
did you first feel the warmth of his presence? Do you remember? When was the darkest moment of your life so far, and how did Christ invade it with his love? When was the coldest time of your life, and how did Jesus warm it up? Do you remember?
We need to remember and reflect on our experience of God’s light. We need to think about the times when he has guided us through our deserts with a pillar of fire, just as he did for his Chosen People during the Exodus.
If we don’t use our memory to keep our faith bright and strong, we will become vulnerable to cynicism, discouragement, rationalism, and frustration — we will forget that we really, really, really matter to God.
The Gospel passage for this Mass at Sunrise shows Mary responding to the visit of the shepherds by keeping “all these things and reflecting on them in her heart.” She was savoring the amazing depth and breadth of God’s love for her. Take some time now to do the same.
Think about your experience — your own, personal, unique experience — of Christ your light.
Talk to him about it, thank him for it, renew your confidence in the power of his unquenchable truth and life to guide, sustain, and inspire you, always and everywhere.
The following questions and biblical passage may help you in your conversation with the Lord.
1 When have I experienced most dramatically the light of Christ? When did I most recently experience it? Thank God for that; savor the memories.
￼If I could see my faith in the form of a candle or an oil lamp, how bright would it be? What elements/ activities/relationships in my life tend to fill up
my lamp and make it burn more brightly? What elements tend to drain it? Talk to God about it.
3 Follow Mary’s example and reflect in your heart about past Christmases — their joys, their sorrows, their graces. Do this in the company of Mary and conversing with her about those memories.
A Biblical Passage to Help Your Meditation
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh,
These my enemies and foes themselves stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear;
Though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.
One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek:
To dwell in the LORD’s house all the days of my life,
To gaze on the LORD’s beauty, to visit his temple.
For God will hide me in his shelter
in time of trouble,
He will conceal me in the cover of his tent; and set me high upon a rock.
Even now my head is held high
above my enemies on every side!
I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and chant praise to the LORD.
Hear my voice, LORD, when I call;
have mercy on me and answer me. “Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”; your face, LORD, do I seek!
Do not hide your face from me;
do not repel your servant in anger.
You are my salvation; do not cast me off; do not forsake me, God my savior!
Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in.
LORD, show me your way; lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Do not abandon me to the desire of my foes; malicious and lying witnesses have risen against me.
I believe I shall see the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD, take courage;
be stouthearted, wait for the LORD
– Psalm 27