The twelve days of Christmas – On the first day of Christmas my true love gave me light.
Today, I begin a brief series of reflections called the twelve days of Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas spans from Christmas Day till January the sixth, the traditional day that celebrates the arrival of the Magi or the wise men.
For the secular world, Christmas day is the climax of a long commercial build up to the festivities surrounding the season. The day after Christmas everything seems to crash! For Catholics, these days and those up to the Baptism of Jesus, constitutes what we call ‘Christmas tide’.
Today is Christmas day, the first day of Christmas. The popular song associated with these days first finds mention in a 1780 children’s book called Mirth Without Mischief. There is no evidence that this popular song sung at Christmas has anything to do with persecuted Christians who devised a way of teaching catechism. Yet we can turn this interesting song into a meditation of sorts for the next twelve days.
The Gospel of today taken from John 1:1-18 is called the prologue. One of the themes central to the prologue is the description of Jesus as THE light. He is the “light of all peoples.” As light, he ‘shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome him.’ He is testified as the light by John. John was just the lamp but Christ was the light. He is the ‘true light which enlightens everyone.’ This word of God, this light and life became flesh and dwelt among us.
Reading this text, one may mistakenly assume that Jesus simply came to obliterate and remove all darkness forever. Yet we know that darkness still exists. It is true that over the years this darkness has been diminished by the goodness and kindness of thousands of acts of love, yet the darkness of this world exists because the human heart would rather have its will than let God have his way.
Yet through it all, St John reminds us that “the light shines in the darkness” and maybe that’s the thing. Maybe that’s the gospel writer’s point. It is not that Jesus obliterates the darkness. Christ did not come to make interventions in the world but transformations in our lives. He did not come to stop a war in Ukraine but came to inspire us to talk words of peace. The presence of THE light, the presence of Jesus calls and challenges us to change the situation, and make it much better.
This, I think, is the message of the incarnation, the story behind the story that we will tell each other this day. God enters into the darkness to sit alongside of us as a Providential advocate, a Providential presence; God with us, Emmanuel. God refuses to dwell in the heavens above and from a safe distance watch the drama of human life play out. Instead, our Provident God climbs right into the darkest places to be with us; and in that holy and luminous action, we find reason enough to hope.