We have been keeping the Advent vigil, preparing for this holy night when heaven and earth draw so closely together. The eve of the mass of Christ calls us to find our place among those who visit the birthing place of Jesus with its shimmering light.
The prophet’s word has been realized. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them has lighted shined” (Isaiah 9:2). The promised child of old “has been born for us, a son given to us” (v. 6). God’s long watch with the people of covenant reaches a new stage, which Christians confess has been in the works since the beginning of creation.
St. Augustine describes God’s intention this way: “God takes on human flesh to grant humanity a greater assurance that it is truly “God . . . Who Speaks” to God’s people. “In order that [humanity] might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith.” The light of truth has shone for all the earth.
Luke’s beloved narrative of Christ’s nativity continues the theme of glorious light. Announcing the good news, the angel of the Lord came to the shepherds, and “the glory of the Lord shone around them . . .” (Luke 2:9b). When the heavenly hosts show up to fill out the choir, imagine the luminosity of the scene!
Above my desk is an illustration from the St. John’s Bible, an illuminated manuscript. At the beginning of the Gospel of Luke is a depiction of the scene of Jesus’ birth, and the primary feature is glorious light. Winged creatures, the holy family, and especially the child are bathed in light from above. Indeed, a shaft of light engulfs the manger.
Two texts from Luke interpret the incandescent artwork: from Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth we hear, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” and from the Benedictus, “by the tender mercy of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us.” It is God’s light that scatters darkness and allows humans to really see.
John’s Gospel develops this further: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (1:9). This is a sweeping claim, and it is instructive as we consider the church’s mission in our day. We must always remember that God’s great mercy is for the whole world, and that God’s light seeks to break into every people and culture.
On this Christmas Eve, we pray that we might see clearly and like those who first rejoiced at his coming, we might glorify and praise God for all we have heard and seen. Glory to God in the highest!
Molly T. Marshall