Scripture: Luke 2:8, 11, Matthew 2:2, 9, John 1: 4-5
“Let there be light.” This phrase comprises the theme for my church’s worship services for Christmas Eve. So, in preparing sermons for this most festive night in which Christians celebrate the incarnation, I decided to look at light in the Christmas stories.
In the gospel of Luke, shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night. Then the angel of the Lord stands before them, and the glory of the Lord shines all around them. They are then terrified. The angel is then joined by a heavenly host that praise God and say “Glory to God in the highest!”
The light in the Lukan story is not a star–it comes from the glory of the Lord. This glory was brilliant, majestic, awesome–enough to frighten poor shepherds on a dark and cold night. Glory in the original Greek language is doxa, and means “praise” or “worship.” Glory belongs only to God or to Christ. Glory holds a brightness of solar light. It can be startling or intimidating at times, as it was for the shepherds. The majesty of God can inspire fear and awe. A great definition I discovered was that glory denotes an outward expression of an absolute, inward perfect love. Glory at Christmas is God’s inner light shining bright with love, shown in the beautiful babe lying in a manger. No wonder the shepherds felt they had to go immediately and see this baby. They had been illuminated by God’s glory. As scary as that was, they now had experienced an amazing love and wanted to go see the source. In Luke, “let there be light” means let there be love.
In the gospel of Matthew, the light comes from a star. The wise men say, “we have seen his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” They then followed the star they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
The light in Matthew is that of a star. This celestial light was bright enough to launch a journey, and then to illuminate the way. The star showed the wise men the right path, and they followed it until they arrived at joy. The light of the star gave them courage to confront the governmental power of King Herod. The light of the star gave them hope to keep going on an arduous journey of unknown length. Most of all though, the light of the star brought to them joy. In Matthew, “let there be light” means let there be joy.
In the gospel of John, the story of the incarnation sounds completely differently than the shepherds of Luke or the wise men of Matthew. John says, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” The light in John is actually Jesus. Jesus as incarnate God is life and is light. This divine radiance is of such a quality that no darkness can overcome it.
I read a reflection from a father whose 18-year old son died three years ago in a car crash at Christmas. He said that the verse from John “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” sustains him through his grief. He offered that there is no darkness so dark, even the darkness of a son’s death, that Christ’s light can’t in some way find its way through. This light in the gospel of John is one of mystery. It is the light that comes through the cracks and crevices of our lives. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the light that lets us know we are not alone. In John, “Let there be light” means let there be comfort.
On this Christmas Eve, what kind of light from Christ do you need? Do you need to be illumined with love? Awed with majesty? Then shine bright with the glory of Luke’s gospel. Do you need a softer, but strong light that shows you the way and leads you down a good path? Do you need a light of courage that helps you confront power? Then shine steadily with the joy of Matthew’s gospel. Do you need a little light to push back on the darkness? Do you need to know you are not alone? Then shine graciously with the comforting light of John’s gospel.
Whatever light you need, receive the light Christ offers of love, joy, and comfort this Christmas. Then, shine on. Shine on.
This practice will again be restorative. (The picture included on this post is shoulder stand, which is a more active version of legs up. We will do this with hips down and legs at the wall) We will start by envisioning the word light, and bringing it to our eyes. In a meditation, we’ll then send the light to any area of our body that needs love, joy, or comfort. I’ll also intersperse the practice with Christmas carols that reference light.
One of my favorite restorative poses is viparita karani. We’ll do this Legs at the Wall pose while the sound of Silent Night plays. Pose instructions are taken from yoga journal.com
Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions
The pose described here is a passive, supported variation of the Shoulderstand-like Viparita Karani. For your support you’ll need one or two thickly folded blankets or a firm round bolster. You’ll also need to rest your legs vertically (or nearly so) on a wall or other upright support.
Before performing the pose, determine two things about your support: its height and its distance from the wall. If you’re stiffer, the support should be lower and placed farther from the wall; if you’re more flexible, use a higher support that is closer to the wall. Your distance from the wall also depends on your height: if you’re shorter move closer to the wall, if taller move farther from the wall. Experiment with the position of your support until you find the placement that works for you.
Start with your support about 5 to 6 inches away from the wall. Sit sideways on right end of the support, with your right side against the wall (left-handers can substitute “left” for “right” in these instructions). Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swing your legs up onto the wall and your shoulders and head lightly down onto the floor. The first few times you do this, you may ignominiously slide off the support and plop down with your buttocks on the floor. Don’t get discouraged. Try lowering the support and/or moving it slightly further off the wall until you gain some facility with this movement, then move back closer to the wall.
Your sitting bones don’t need to be right against the wall, but they should be “dripping” down into the space between the support and the wall. Check that the front of your torso gently arches from the pubis to the top of the shoulders. If the front of your torso seems flat, then you’ve probably slipped a bit off the support. Bend your knees, press your feet into the wall and lift your pelvis off the support a few inches, tuck the support a little higher up under your pelvis, then lower your pelvis onto the support again.
Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck and soften your throat. Don’t push your chin against your sternum; instead let your sternum lift toward the chin. Take a small roll (made from a towel for example) under your neck if the cervical spine feels flat. Open your shoulder blades away from the spine and release your hands and arms out to your sides, palms up.
Keep your legs relatively firm, just enough to hold them vertically in place. Release the heads of the thigh bones and the weight of your belly deeply into your torso, toward the back of the pelvis. Soften your eyes and turn them down to look into your heart.
Stay in this pose anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Be sure not to twist off the support when coming out. Instead, slide off the support onto the floor before turning to the side. You can also bend your knees and push your feet against the wall to lift your pelvis off the support. Then slide the support to one side, lower your pelvis to the floor, and turn to the side. Stay on your side for a few breaths, and come up to sitting with an exhalation.