Bethlehem’s light has never been extinguished

One of the visual attractions of this time of year is the growing practice of decorating houses with Christmas lights.

A prominent example is Franklin Road in Ponsonby in Auckland, where the spectacular display put on by residents has become a drawcard, reportedly drawing between 100,000 and 150,000 people to the street each year.

The display, running from December 1 to 26, this year is a genuinely communitarian gesture, put on at the residents’ expense. This tradition has now been running for 26 years, generating three generations-worth of memories.

Similar residential light displays are attracting visitors all over the country – in Tovey Road, Nelson; Kauri St, Timaru; Shelter Grove, New Plymouth, to name a few.

There is something about light that is elemental, and, as such is attractive. It is no wonder that it is an important symbol in Christianity, especially at this time of year.

As Pope Benedict XVI said at Midnight Mass in December, 2005, the word “light” pervades the entire liturgy of that night’s Mass.

The glory of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and “shone around them”. (Luke 2:9). God is light and in him there is no darkness. (1 John 1:5).

“Light means knowledge; it means truth, as contrasted with the darkness of falsehood and ignorance. Light gives us life, it shows us the way. But light, as a source of heat, also means love. Where there is love, light shines forth in the world; where there is hatred, the world remains in darkness,” Benedict said.

“In the stable of Bethlehem there appeared the great light which the world awaits.

“In that child lying in the stable, God has shown his glory – the glory of love which gives itself away, stripping itself of all grandeur in order to guide us along the way of love.

“The light of Bethlehem has never been extinguished. In every age, it has touched men and women, ‘it has shone around them’. Wherever people put their faith in that child, charity also sprang up – charity towards others, loving concern for the weak and the suffering, the grace of forgiveness.

“From Bethlehem, a stream of light, love and truth spreads through the centuries. If we look to the saints – from Paul and Augustine to Francis and Dominic, from Francis Xavier and Teresa of Avila, to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, we see this flood of goodness, this path of light kindled ever anew by the mystery of Bethlehem, by that God who became a child.

“In that child, God countered the violence of this world with his own goodness. He calls us to follow that child.”

Benedict developed the theme in 2007: “In the stable at Bethlehem, heaven and earth meet. Heaven has come down to earth. For this reason, a light shines forth from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there.

“Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart.

“And the heart of God, during the holy night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch heaven. Then the earth too is made new.”

And in 2012, Benedict observed that “today, Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity”.

“Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable of Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.”

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Michael Otto

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