If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light” darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one. (Ps 139:8; 11-12)
Jesus, whilst He was personally present on earth, named himself the Light of the World (Jn 8:12). This is in keeping with the prophet Isaiah’s foretelling that the savior of Israel would be a light for the nations (Is 42:6). Isaiah tells us that the savior will come establishing justice, teaching those awaiting instruction (Is 42:4), and freeing those living in the darkness of idolatry (Is 42:7-8). To move from injustice to justice, from ignorance to wisdom, and from idolatry to authentic worship is to walk in the way of the light of Christ – on the path of illumination of the savior of the world. This is the purposeful meaning of the brilliance of Christmas and is it fitting that what comes before the celebration of the birth of the Christ is Advent (light awakening), while what concludes our celebration is Epiphany (light manifesting).
You cannot hide from Christmas any more than you can hide from the light of Christ. As the psalmist writes in our quotation above, there is no place you can go where God has not already been, except perhaps to a region of sin. Yet even the infant Jesus, born without sin, grew to live out the consequences of sin through his own human suffering and death. However, being God, Jesus brought light even to death; even death cannot conceal you from God. It is as the psalmist says elsewhere: “… the Sun comes forth like a bridegroom from his canopy… From one end of the heavens it comes forth; its course runs through to the other, nothing escapes its burning heat (Ps 19:5-7). Christ comes today not only to enlighten Israel, but to illumine the whole universe; and just as man’s flesh cannot escape His light, neither can man’s soul ever escape the scorching heat of the divine conscience residing within him.
In honor of the divine light of Christ we place on our bulletin cover for this 4th Sunday in Advent and for our Christmas celebration a painting by Gerard van Honthorst, a Dutch artist of the Golden Age. Honthorst was also known as “Gerard of the Nights” for his masterful use of the Tenebrist style in illuminating darkness with unsuspecting light. The work we are using – that which we examine today – is entitled Adoration of the Christ Child .
In this image, Jesus is the sole source of light. Some of this light is shed upon the shepherds set semi-circularly above the divine infant. More light is shed upon Joseph (right) who looks down in a prayerful posture of adoration. Most of the light is reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary shown not only receiving the light of Christ joyfully but also revealing the light by lifting the linen. Mary defines the divine light between her outstretched arms forming Our Lord Jesus into the shape of a bright crescent moon.
Honthorst reminds us that illumination and adoration are one. We come this day to adore the illumined one of God just as we are illumined through our sincere adoration.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services