Every year I brace myself for winter. Knowing the air will turn crisp to cold, I whip out a cozy scarf, and as the sky dims and darkens, I store up on Vitamin D. The sun’s short stay and the often cloudy sky make afternoons feel more like early evenings. It’s dark, dark, dark! We now approach December 21st, which will mark the shortest day and longest night of the year. As if it wasn’t dark enough! Everyone has different coping mechanisms for Mother Nature’s dark drape; for most, the sun is replaced with electric light displays.
Faithful Catholics seem to embrace the dark desert, as they prepare themselves for the true light. “Jesus spoke to them saying, I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Their pilgrimage towards Bethlehem is marked by a glowing crescendo on the Advent wreath. Holy Mother Church, like St. John the Baptist, renews the announcement that, “The true light that enlightens every man (is) coming into the world” (John 1:9). We wait in eagerness whereas the restless secular culture already has “Christmas” aglow. The light they blaze is a counterfeit. There is no authentic proclamation behind the luminosity. Glowing displays are a mere substitute for the tired sun, rather than a celebration for the true light to come.
On a recent visit to New York City, this hit home more than ever. Retail stores fill their windows with sparkles, stars, snowflakes, lights, creatures in motion, and more. But in reality, these storefronts are more a distraction from the dark than an invitation into the Christmas spirit. Having embraced the greeting “Happy Holidays” over “Merry Christmas,” it seems most don’t even know what holiday they are celebrating other than a light festival. In fact, one retailer recruited a non-Christian to “deck the halls” with hair. That’s right, the window display is a boudoir created out of hair. It is nothing more than a decree of just how far society has strayed from Christianity. I don’t recommend checking it out. Only one store that I came across expressed the season “traditionally” with images of Santa Claus and one family’s preparations to receive him. Certainly, Santa reminds us of the Holy Bishop from Turkey, Saint Nicholas, but in reality he falls short of the one we are really called to receive into our hearts.
There is temptation to reject what causes us to suffer, in this case darkness. However, the Church has called us into this period of hopeful anticipation as we renew our hearts to receive the Incarnate Christ in the manger, and to prepare ourselves for the Second Coming of Christ. It is this longing for the light in the darkness which will ever more allow us to embrace the long awaited gift of Christ. On Christmas, we can rightfully proclaim with joy that, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16) Yes, Christ is our true light that will help us through our physically and emotionally dark days. Truly, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1: 5).
Our celebration will just be beginning when secular Christmas packs up and the façade of lights fades away. December 25th is supposed to be the first day of Christmas, not the last. During the wintry dreary days ahead we can rejoice and bask in the light of our Savior recognizing that when we long for the light of day, it is our heart longing for the light that never weakens. New York City won’t do when you were made for the eternal city, the New Jerusalem. “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23). Who needs the sun when you have the Son? Quench your thirst for the light of day by embracing the Word made flesh. Read the Word, adore the Word, and receive the Word. Scripture and the Eucharist are food for the Advent pilgrim who seeks to walk in the light.