Rome, 9 December 2020

The people who walked in darkness saw a great light.

A light has shone on those who lived in the land of darkness”. (Is 9:1-2)

Dear Brothers, members of the Nazarene Fraternities, Aspirants to Brothers, Educational Communities, Christian Communities, Catechists and friends of the Sa-Fa Family:

Thousands of coloured, shaped, and flashing light bulbs fill our streets and houses during the Christmas holidays and the days that precede them. The lights have become one of the most visible and appreciated symbols of the Christmas atmosphere. Although our world does not favour the symbolism of things, rather values the aesthetic more, we can use the symbolism of lights to get closer to the depth of the message of Christmas.

Light has many biblical evocations. Elements such as the sun, the moon, the stars, lightning and fire appear in the Bible as manifestations of the greatness of God. The arrival of Jesus is perceived as the rising star that comes to illuminate the darkness of the earth. Isaiah had prophesied: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. A light has shone on those who lived in the land of darkness” (Is 9:1-2).

Following the star

Light carries an ancient and suggestive message that illuminates the meaning of Christmas. It evokes the star that the Wise Men followed from the East to Bethlehem where the Child was born. Some authors find the origin of the Christmas lights in this star that went on to crown the Christmas tree from the tradition of St. Boniface (8th century). The Christmas lights have a Christian root.

The Gospel texts place the birth of Jesus in the night, in an atmosphere of darkness, silence and poverty. And in this context of anonymity and marginality, the signs of God in that night take on strength: the Child, the angels and the star. The Magi saw the star, interpreted it in a prophetic way and set out on their journey. Guided by the faint light of that star, they maintained the hope of finding the bright light of the “Sun of Righteousness” (Antiphon V of Advent).

Our life, too, often takes place at night and we experience moments of darkness, silence and poverty. The pandemic we are suffering from is showing us that sad and uncertain face of life. But God manifests Himself in human limitations and always gives us a few stars to show us the way. The Magi teach us that one can start from a very far place to reach Christ. Like them, we can be rich, wise and powerful; in other words, “full of our own self”; but, like them, we can thirst for the fullness we lack.

These Magi came out of their palaces and their realm of power and set out. They sensed that something great was beyond their known world. And so, a simple star led them to what they were looking for. How hard it is for us to break out of our patterns, change our ideas and get out of our comfort zone! Christmas invites us to open ourselves to this God who comes to meet us, even if we only see a small star to follow. What can be the star that God puts in my night?

Looking for the true Light

The Magi of the East are the prototype characters of those who seek the true light. Our search is illuminated by stars and angels who guide us on the path to Him. The search for God does not have a single direction, it is not man who goes towards God in a solitary explorer’s adventure that ends at the set goal. The incarnation of Jesus teaches us that God comes to us by many ways. That God interacts with us so that the encounter can take place. It is enough to open our eyes and heart, like the Magi and shepherds that night. Sometimes, however, what St. Augustine said happens to us: “You were with me but I was not with you”.

When the Magi arrived in Bethlehem and the star stopped, the text says that “they were filled with great joy” (Mt 2:10). The joy of the Magi is the fruit of their meeting and presence. Let us remember the joy we experience when we are together, when we celebrate something in family and community or when we simply feel accompanied. Our hearts will be filled with joy if we discover the closeness of Jesus who accompanies us in our daily lives. The Magi found the true star, the true light. Jesus proclaimed it: “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). The true light that illuminates every man.

The text goes on to say that they “went into the house”, “saw the child with Mary his mother”, “worshipped him”, and “offered him their gifts” (Mt 2:11). The verbs go into, see, worship and offer imply the whole person. It is a progressive action that goes from the physical gestures of entering and seeing, to the deeper gestures such as recognizing, adoring, offering and sharing. In any case, these important men knew how to lower themselves to the level of the cradle of the Child in order to recognise and worship Him. When man discovers something of value in his life, he awakens that human potential which makes him great, and leads him to measure up to the other.

Let us not be dazzled by the Christmas lights and all that goes with the consumption and celebration that saturate the days of Christmas. Let us get to the bottom of the message of light. Jesus is the Light: “I am the light of the world”. His light will fill us with joy. We can live a long Christmas that lasts the whole year because Jesus is at our side. Where do I discover that God is with me and that He is light in my life?

Bearers of a message of light

The text says that “the Magi returned home by another road”. When someone meets Jesus he necessarily changes his path. The encounter with the love of Jesus leads us to the way of love, with all the expressions it entails: understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, donation, sacrifice…

Whoever allows himself to be invaded by the light of Jesus radiates that light in turn. “Believe in the light, that you may be children of light” (Jn 12:36). We are bearers of the Good News, that is, of the love God gives to the world and of the fraternity He wants to establish among men. A world of brothers and sisters where peace, justice and dignity reach all people and a new Kingdom based on love is built. “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14).

In one of my Letters to the Sa-Fa Family on the occasion of the pandemic of COVID-19, which we still suffer today, I commented on the need to use the “weapons of light” to overcome together the problems that this situation generates. I said then, that the weapons of light are spiritual qualities that come from God because He is the light and can help us change our hearts. Some of these weapons are: prudence, concern for the common good, responsibility, generosity, close relationships, attention to the weakest, teamwork, ecological care and solidarity, among others. These are the “weapons of light” that the present times need.

Let us live an interior Christmas more than an exterior one, let us make the Christmas celebration a celebration of the encounter with Jesus and with each person. “Walk while you have the light… he who walks in darkness knows not where he goes” (Jn 12:35).

May this Christmas time be the feast of light because we have discovered that the Light dwells in us and we in the Light.

Merry Christmas 2020 and Happy New Year 2021!

Br. Francisco Javier Hernando de Frutos. AG