Christ, Our True Light at Christmas
-- Written by Deaconess Heather Wathall
The service of Evening Prayer has been a favorite of mine since I first experienced it during my freshman year of college. At that time, there must have been a hundred or more students in the undercroft at Valparaiso’s Chapel of the Resurrection. Students filled every chair, sat on the floor along the walls, and even up the stairs on either side of the altar. Everyone gathered in silence at 10 p.m. with an unlit candle and an order of service. The problem? You couldn’t read the printed words. It was too dark.
Then the pastor would sing to break the silence: “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world,” Everyone who knew the words completed the thought: “The Light no darkness can overcome.”
“Stay with us Lord, for it is evening.”
“and the day is almost over.”
“Let Your light scatter the darkness.”
“and illumine Your Church.”
Then the cantor would begin the ancient hymn called Phos Hilaron: “Joyous light of glory:” and the congregation would continue, “of the immortal Father; heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ…”
The words are striking. The entire service of Evening Prayer can be found in several hymnals, including Lutheran Service Book. And as much as I treasure each time I get to worship utilizing this liturgy, once it begins, I’m transported back to that experience in Valparaiso. During the singing of Phos Hilaron, the pastor would light his candle from the Christ candle. He would then share that light with the person at the end of each row. Before long, there were more than a hundred candles lighting that room. It was gloriously beautiful. And a problem was solved: For the rest of the service, those of us who didn’t know the words were finally able to join in because we had light.
In these dreary winter days, we find ourselves
in darkness more and more. For some, it is a nuisance. For others, it becomes a burden with medical effects. But, as much as these dark days are limiting, the joy of Christmas coming to us in December is that reminder that Christ, our true Light, has overcome every spiritual darkness. And, at the last in heaven, His Word promises that there is no need even for the sun or moon because “the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).
If you get a chance to attend a candlelight service this Christmas, take a moment to appreciate the light as it comes to you. Just as surely as He came, born of the Virgin Mary and placed in a manger for shepherds to adore, Jesus comes to you and for you every day in His Word, His Sacraments and His people. He comes with forgiveness for every sin and life everlasting, both won for you on His cross. Yours is the ‘amen’ of thanksgiving for these gifts.
So, welcome the Light and His love this Advent, Christmas, and every day. He comes for you. Amen.