Light does have a way of taking common everyday (and sometimes even ugly) things and making them beautiful. Such was the case for the artists Valeria Bianco, Michelle Brick and Shaugun Singh who used gateways of light to beautify the pedestrian walkway underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The Tribute of Light is the art installation at Ground Zero which sends up two beacons of light each year to commemorate the victims of 9-11. Because we are attracted to light and find it beautiful in many ways, light has been used in art and architecture throughout the ages, beginning with the stained-glass windows of Gothic cathedrals all the way to lasers and neon lights in the modern era. So it is not surprising that light has led us to the day we celebrate Christ’s birth.
The lovely tradition of the Advent wreath is designed to guide believers through the dark days of waiting before the celebration of Christ’s birth. The outer circle of the wreath contains four candles which are lit weekly; each featuring a part of the Christmas story. One candle is placed in the center and it is called the Christ Candle. The fact that this candle is in the center of the wreath reminds believers that the Incarnation (Christ’s birth) is the heart of the Christmas season giving light to the world. Madison Avenue and marketing experts may try to convince you that the celebration of Christmas through holiday meals and excessive gifts is what Christmas is all about. Hallmark movies and box office hits at the local movie theater may try to tell you that family, friends and brotherly love are what Christmas is all about. But that one central candle is the True Light, the real meaning of Christmas (Jn. 1:9) and it is plainly visible to us on the Advent wreath. We can’t overlook it because of where it is placed.
Christ is truly the center of Christmas. Even as a baby, He was both human and unique. He came into this world like all other babies (Lk. 2:7) yet angels surrounded by a glorious light announced His birth to shepherds (Lk. 2:8-13). Not many babies get a birth announcement like that! While Matthew and Luke give us some details about His birth, it is not nearly enough for our detail hungry 21st century minds. Instead when it came time for His story to be told the Gospel writers focused their attention on His death and resurrection, including His promise to return (Acts 1:1-11). While Advent is celebrated with the lighting of candles, the singing of Christmas carols and prayer Christmas itself brings Advent to a close. Your neighbors will eventually take down their Christmas display. If you do have an Advent wreath you will pack it up and put it away until next year. But our waiting is not over. Now we wait for Christ’s return and until He comes it is our privilege and duty to carry His beautiful light into the world just as He commanded us in Matthew 5:14-16.
Will our light be like the central candle of the Advent wreath, the one that points to the Center of Christmas? Or will it be like those crazy blow-up characters that look like a pile of dirty laundry in the daytime when they are lying lifeless on the ground? Will our light be joyful like the house whose windows, shutters, doors and eaves are dotted with a colorful ribbon of cascading Christmas lights or will they be calm, peaceful and inviting like the stately homes which spotlight a wreath on the door and have a candle in every window? Whatever form our light-shining might take, it is my prayer that no one will mistake it for an advertising campaign or a secular platitude. May our lights shine forth with the True Light this Christmas season and throughout the coming year.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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