“An Evening of Heavenly Lights”
The following are remarks made by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during “An Evening of Heavenly Lights” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, Nov. 29.
We have called this prayer service on the night of this First Sunday of Advent “An Evening of Heavenly Lights.” As we begin our Advent journey, we remember with love our deceased loved ones and we pray for them. The luminarias lit in prayerful remembrance of our loved ones express our heartfelt prayer: “let perpetual light shine upon them!”
The perpetual light is the light of heaven. It is the light of Christ who at Christmas brought heaven to earth. He came to earth to enlighten us and to guide us to salvation. Jesus is the light of the world, the light that prevails over darkness, the light of good that overcomes evil, of love that overcomes hatred, and of life that overcomes death. The tradition of Christmas lights on our trees and on our houses are symbolic of this true meaning of Christmas. They are a proclamation of the truth we celebrate at Christmas, the truth proclaimed by Saint John at the beginning of his Gospel in speaking of the Word, the Word who was with God and was God. St. John says that “what came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
In John’s Gospel, darkness is a symbol for sin, the spiritual condition of alienation from God, and of death. The eternal Word who became flesh, Jesus, is the true light that the darkness does not overcome. Jesus triumphed over this darkness. In the conflict between light and darkness, light is victorious. The love of God triumphs through Jesus’ death and resurrection. May the Christmas lights and the luminaria remind us of this truth, that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” This great truth of our faith can dispel the pessimism and despair that we might sometimes feel. It fills us with hope and joy. In this Advent season, even in the midst of a pandemic and in the midst of sorrow and grief at the death of loved ones, may we experience this hope and interior joy.
Besides the Christmas symbolism of light, I wish to mention very briefly another wonderful symbol: the Christmas tree. Though we might think of the Christmas tree as a secular symbol of Christmas, I invite you, when you put up your Christmas tree, to give it a Christian meaning in your home. Think of the story of the apostle to the Germans, Saint Boniface, in the eighth century. He went to Germany to bring the light of Christ to the pagan people there. In the cold of winter, on Christmas Eve, he found the people worshipping their god Thor at a large oak tree in the forest. They were about to offer a child in sacrifice to Thor, the god of thunder and war. Bishop Boniface took his crozier and blocked the hammer of the pagan priest who was about to crush the boy’s skull. St. Boniface then spoke to the people about Christ and he chopped down that sacred oak tree. Behind the oak, there was a little young fir tree. St. Boniface told them that this would be their holy tree, the tree of the Christ Child. It had wood for peace, not violence. Its boughs were evergreen, a sign of eternal life. And it was a tree that pointed up to heaven. Boniface used the fir tree’s triangular shape to describe the Holy Trinity. St. Boniface then told them the story of Christmas. Thus began the conversion of Germany.
May this Christmas tree and the lights and candles remind us of the great mystery we prepare to celebrate: the mystery of the Word who came down from heaven, who became flesh and dwelt among us, whose light the darkness cannot overcome. The Lord still comes to bring joy and light into our dark world. May His light illumine our lives and may His perpetual light shine upon the faithful departed whom we remember tonight in our prayers.