The Light Shines in the Darkness, and the Darkness Has Not Overcome It
The light of our faith shines out in a dark month and a dark world, guiding others toward Christ, welcoming them home
Today the Church honors St. Lucy, often referred to as the “Saint of Light.” It is not uncommon to have a procession with young girls carrying candles, with the lead girl wearing a wreath of lights. And by now, most of us have put up lights outside our houses and decorated trees for Christmas. These traditions may pass our attention without much thought to how these lights have spiritual significance. Some additional customs of light have, pardon the pun, illuminated my thinking.
When living in the South American country of Colombia, my family was introduced to a wonderful tradition. The evening of Dec. 7 is known in Colombia as the “Noche de Velitas” (“Night of the Little Candles”). Families and neighbors gather together once the sun sets and light little candles outside their homes. City parks and town squares are illuminated. Medellin, one of the country’s largest cities, is famous for “El Alumbrado” (“the Lighting”) with millions of lights on and around the city’s primary river.
You probably can guess the significance of the date of the celebration. The next day, Dec. 8, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Colombia marks the eve of this great feast by commemorating the vigil held by those in Rome in anticipation of Pius IX’s papal bull declaring the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854.
Even though we are living now in the U.S., we still celebrate the Noche de Velitas because Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception — patroness of the United States and that perfect vessel into which the Christ Child would come — ought to be celebrated with light!
Our Advent is also celebrated with light.
This Sunday, for example, we lit the third candle in our Advent wreath. Coinciding with Gaudete Sunday, the pink candle lit tempers a bit of the penitential purple of the other three candles nestled in the Advent wreath. And while our culture tries to convince us that Christmas has come, the Church reminds us to rejoice as the wait for the birth of Our Savior is almost over.
And we are trying to share our joy with neighbors. Two years ago, I drove a good hour from the house to purchase an outdoor Christmas Nativity set. It was the height of the pandemic and I was committed to making sure that our yard would draw people closer to Christ. There were no sets anywhere remotely close to our house, but I was on a mission. I bought the set online, but had to pick it up in person. Sure enough, when I arrived, there were no sets in stock. There was only the already-assembled display set. This, of course, was a bit of a godsend as I am profoundly unhandy.
I put all of the four-foot-tall figures and the manger clumsily into a shopping cart, paid and then loaded them into the back of the minivan with my now-mortified children, who came along with me for the ride. It’s the third season that this Nativity set graces the front yard. The light surrounding the Holy Family is bright. Really bright. It definitely draws the attention of the people walking and driving by our house. And it also draws my family’s attention to the Nativity — the humility of the Holy Family and the generosity with God of the three kings.
This weekend we strung lights around an evergreen Christmas tree and set up an elaborate illuminated Nativity scene in the living room. I noticed too that when all of my children have finally returned home for the evening, just about every light in the house is turned on. Ours really is a bright and cheerful home.
A speaker at an event I attended last month shared an image that I’ve been thinking about ever since. He said that when we open our door at night to a visitor or someone in the family returns home to those who are waiting, the darkness outside doesn’t come in. Instead, the light from within shines out.
Think about that for a bit. The light shines out into the darkness.
The same is true for the light of our faith. It shines out in the darkness, guiding others toward Christ. Welcoming them home.
This light of the faith also offers us needed protection from the darkness of this world. And, boy, there are plenty of traps and temptations that can pull away from the light of Christ. On the first Sunday of Advent, we read the following from St. Paul to the Romans:
Brothers and sisters; You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
So, there you have it — the light of our faith plays both offense and defense in the spiritual battle
As we draw near to the Nativity of the Child Jesus, contemplate the wonderful traditions of light that Catholics celebrate. And keep the torch of your faith burning bright.