A Christmas message by Anthony Esolen on behalf of your friends at
The Fellowship of St. James
Into the Light
When my children were small, my wife and I would take them on a drive through the neighborhoods of northeastern Pennsylvania, where I grew up, to look at the Christmas lights, because in that part of the country people still had the heart to deck their houses with color to celebrate the birth of the Lord. To my mind, there are few things sweeter than the soft glow of a gold or green Christmas light half hidden under the snow.
What they believed, those people who climbed ladders in the cold to string up their lights, I don't know. For some of them, I suppose, it was just the seasonal thing to do. I suspect that their numbers are waning, those who love Christmas lights but not the Light who appeared to the world at Christmas. If they don't darken the church door, they don't brighten their own. But for the Christian, it is a good and joyful thing to celebrate the Light with light.
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I'm looking at a Portuguese Bible, the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel. The translation is a modern one, and the letters are like plain blocks, neither of which bodes well. But where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. The glory of the first Christmas shines through in a way made possible by a peculiarity in Portuguese. That's the beauty of reading Scripture refracted in another language; you see things you won't see in your own. So Joseph is advised not to put Mary aside, because the child she carries is from the Holy Spirit. And Mary dara a luz um filho—literally, she will give to the light a son, and shall call his name Jesus.
Dar a luz—to give to the light. That's how a speaker of Portuguese refers to the birth of any child, and to the birth of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. "You will conceive in your womb and will give to the light a Son, to whom you will give the name of Jesus," says the angel to Mary.
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The movement of the world without Jesus is from darkness to a brief flickering light, then back into darkness. We are born, we bustle about the world for a day or two, and we die, and after a brief season we are like the snows of yesteryear, and our place remembers us no more. The movement of the world with Jesus is from darkness into light, and always from darkness into light. "Let there be light," said the Lord in the beginning, and there was light. And in the fullness of time he created the world anew, after it had been soiled and fouled by sin. This time, he brought to our eyes not the created light, but the uncreated Light. He brought himself.
It's what Zachariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, is telling us on the day when his wife Elizabeth has brought to the light the forerunner of the Light, John. "In the tender mercies of our God," he says, "the dawn from on high will shine upon us, to bring light to the people who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the ways of peace." And Simeon, on the eighth day after the birth of Jesus, takes the child in his arms and blesses the Lord, who has prepared a light to illumine the nations, and the glory of his people Israel. The old man is now happy to die, because he trusts in the God who keeps his promises. He will go from strength to strength, and from light to light.
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"I am the Light of the world," says Jesus. "He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." The last word, at the end of the world's year, at the end of the life of the faith-filled Christian, at the end of the world itself, is not sin, or death, or darkness, or nothingness. The last word is the first. It is the Word, in that eternal neighborhood that needs neither sun nor moon, nor strings of colored lights, for the glory of the Lord lightens it, and that Lamb is the light thereof.
May the light of the Lord shine in your hearts this Christmas, and in all the time to come. •
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