Much of the ancient language permeating the seasons of Advent and Christmas refers to the dualistic phenomena of light and dark. It is understandable that our spiritual forbearers in the northern hemisphere aligned these liturgical seasons with the time of year wherein daylight decreases, and the world seems increasingly defined by long nights and darkness. With a little imagination we can attempt to perceive the world through that medieval lens, when winter and darkness were times of want, hunger, and despair.
From this vantage point, the language of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ take on a deeper, more powerful meaning, and thus the promise of light returning to the world, the arrival of both the sun and the Son, is indeed a promise of immense hope and joy.
"Much of the ancient language permeating the seasons of Advent and Christmas refers to the dualistic phenomena of light and dark."
Never had this aspect of Advent and Christmas struck my heart as it did many years ago when I was privileged to participate in a church community that conducted its worship services outside. Rain or shine, they gathered every Friday at 6PM, year-round.
The community called itself Common Cathedral, and it was an ecumenical effort to redefine what it meant to be a church. Integral to its mission was solidarity with the local population of people experiencing homelessness, hence their decision to hold services outside. These services consisted of a liturgy of the Eucharist, followed by a community, pot-luck style meal.
The first service I attended happened to be in the month of July, and as far as weather goes, July evenings in northern Colorado are sublime. With the sun near its zenith, the evening was notable for its laughter, genuine fraternity, and radical hospitality. The service began and ended in the light of day. Additionally, there was the reality that many within this small community would be sleeping outside that night, and it gave a sense of solemnity and seriousness to the proceedings.
"The community called itself Common Cathedral, and it was an ecumenical effort to redefine what it meant to be a church."
As the weeks went by and many Fridays came and went, the seasonal impact on the services became apparent. The sun set earlier, and darkness began to creep into our little circle of worshippers. Soon we had to bring flashlights, headlamps, and Coleman lanterns. Later, we wore jackets, hats, and gloves. Snow flurries were common, and attrition struck our ranks.
Christmas Eve landed on a Friday that year, and it arrived with a blizzard. The candlelit service began and ended in darkness. Many of our homeless neighbors had already set up camp for the night and could not risk leaving, so there was only a handful of us in attendance. The language of Advent and the dawn of Christmas came alive; for the first time, I read the words of ancient scripture and prayers in the dark, by flickering candlelight, amidst flurries of snow, with friends whom I knew would be sleeping outside. The promise of Light entering the world made visceral sense to me… I was uniquely aware of my lack, and the lack of my neighbors, which opened the door for me to recognize how much I needed this Light to return to both myself, and the world.
It is a strange thing to consider the recognition of one’s lack as a gift, but a gift it was. And it should not have been a surprise—Christmas is a celebration in honor of the God who came as the very embodiment of ‘lack’ – a helpless infant born to young parents in an occupied land. A gift indeed.
On behalf of Bishop Berg, the Diocese of Pueblo, and Catholic Charities of Southern Colorado, I wish you and yours a most merry Christmas.
To donate to Catholic Charities, please visit www.ccsoco.org/give
By Joe Domko, Executive Director Catholic Charities of Southern Colorado
Image by pikisuperstar Benzoix on Freepik
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