This is my first Christmas at Magdalen, and I can’t help but notice the beauty of our church during this season. Our church is always beautiful, but certain aspects really bring out the spirituality of the Christmas season. When we look towards the sanctuary, we see the green trees surrounding the tabernacle, and the large green wreaths hanging on either side. Both of these decorations bring out the theme of eternity. The wreaths are round – they have no end. You could say they are eternal. Both the wreaths and the trees are evergreen – the life of the plant, always seeming to be present, as the green continues. This a theme of the Christmas season, because although Jesus Christ born in the manger in Bethlehem was an event in the past which we celebrate, He remains present with us eternally. The past informs our present state! After He took on human flesh, He didn’t shed it when He was done with His mission – after being born in this world, He will eternally be a human being, as one of us, with us.
The trees and wreaths also have beautiful lights all around them. These should remind us a bit of the Star of Bethlehem which the Magi followed to reach the Christ child. “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt 2:2) The light is attractive. It is a presence amidst darkness. It guides us when we cannot see. When all the lights are off in the church, the lights on the trees and wreath remain on, to guide you to the tabernacle, where Our Lord continually resides.
How often do we actually experience complete darkness? It’s pretty rare. There’s always streetlights, or stars, or something creating light. When I was in the Holy Land with my seminary class last winter, we had the opportunity to walk Hezekiah’s tunnel, which is a tunnel that runs underneath the old city of Jerusalem, which King Hezekiah built around 700 BC to keep water within the city while under siege. Nothing fancy – just an underground tunnel with water running at our feet. But it was completely dark! Pitch black. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I knew where the walls were at, but suddenly when the lights went out, I became unsure. I was with my seminarians friends, yet there was a strange, tangible hopelessness in the darkness – even though we were deliberately in the dark! I became desperate for any kind of light.
My experience in the tunnel is the spiritual experience of the Jewish people before Christ. The shepherds came from the fields to see this new light. The magi came from far off lands, not to see the star, which was bright as well, but the True Light – Emmanuel, God with us. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:4-5) Today, January 6th, at 3:00pm, our parish has the special opportunity to host a live performance of this experience – the three kings following the light, so as to encounter the True Light their hearts desire. Join fellow parishioners for the opera Amahl. Please visit operakansas.org for more information & sign ups.