Sometimes during the Christmas season when I was young, Dad and Mom would bundle up my brother, sister and me into warm clothing, pack us into the car and off we would go into the crispy cold evening to look at the lighted Christmas displays on our neighbors’ lawns and buildings around the town. We would slowly drive through the snowy streets in Rutland, Vermont, oohing and ahhhhing at the life-size belens, Santa and his reindeer resting on the top of someone’s roof, real trees decorated in ice and snow and weather-proof colored lights, wreaths adorning doors and windows, outside lamp posts wound with greenery and lights lighting up the sidewalk for those passing by. Way back then, no one was offended at belens on lawns, or nativity scenes in the town squares!
When I arrived in the Philippines (1962), I found the lights of Christmas here, too. Parols, candles in the windows, strings of fairy lights adorning trees and bushes and buildings, churches ablaze with lights in welcome for Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve.
But I’ve always felt sad when after the Christmas season, the lights are turned out and everyone returns to the busy-ness of living in the world. Jesus Himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” If we welcome the Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve, if He really is the Light of the world, then why do we turn off the Light after Christmas?
Wherever Christmas is truly experienced and kept, it will be in the hearts and homes and churches of those who have borrowed their light from the Christ Child, who have lighted their lamps with the candles from Bethlehem.
What are these candles from Bethlehem? The candles of memory, of love, of true worship, of peace and of blessing, to name just a few.
Candle of Memory
First, there is the candle of memory. We need to remember the history of God’s people and His plan for them. Bethlehem was where Ruth lived with Naomi, where she met and married Boaz. Bethlehem was the birthplace and home of David. He composed the psalms among the hills of Bethlehem while tending his father’s sheep. The prophets prophesied about Bethlehem. The Wise Men traveled long and far to reach that small hamlet, to be able to bow down and worship the Babe in the manger. The angels sang their “Glorias” in the skies above Bethlehem. The Star lit the candle of Bethlehem for us showing us the way to our Savior.
Today more than ever we need to relight the candle of memory. Amidst the rampant commercialism assaulting us on all sides, we need to remember the true meaning of Christmas. The candle of memory should rekindle in our lives the light of promise, faith and hope that radiated from Bethlehem’s Light, born in a manger.
Candle of Love
God’s gift of His Son clearly tells us of the greatest love of all. And from the humble stable in Bethlehem this love became the Light that has the power to light up the whole world, to light up our hearts, to brighten our lives.
The familiar song goes: “It is better to light just one little candle than to linger in the dark…” This little candle of love can penetrate the shadows of hatred with its light. This candle of love enables us to bear all things, believe all things, hope in all things and endure all things. This candle of love will never fail or go out unless we blow it out with our hatred, rebellion or sin against the Holy Spirit.
Candle of True Worship
Whenever I witness the nativity drama being reenacted, the choirs singing “Glory to God in the highest!” and the simplicity of Mary and Joseph wondering at the beauty of the Baby Jesus, I cannot help but lift my thoughts to God in worship, praise and adoration. All who came to see the Baby that night in Bethlehem “fell down and worshiped him” and “returned, glorifying and praising God.”
How shall we best light this candle of true worship? We need, each one of us in his/her own heart, to say, “There is born to me this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Jesus is born to me, He came down from heaven as a Babe for me, He lived and died and lived again for me. God’s gift is given to me, personally. And so I must receive this gift of love, Jesus, personally. I believe that once we fully realize this wonderful truth we, too, will fall down and worship God from our heart.
Candle of Peace
The prophet Isaiah said, “His name shall be called … the Prince of Peace.” The prophet Micah prophesied: “And this man shall be our peace.” The angelic chorus high above Bethlehem sang of peace. And on many occasions Jesus Himself spoke of peace and He left us His peace so that we would not be troubled or afraid.
So many wars and rumors of war, so many areas of strife, so many instances of men, women and children hurting, maiming, killing other men, women and children … what has happened to the candle of peace that was enkindled with the birth of Jesus? Every part of our world needs the light of Christ’s peace, and the good works of his peacemakers. We need Christ’s peace in our hearts and in our homes, in our communities, the BCBP, and in our parishes, in our businesses and in our nation.
But first of all, I need to experience Christ’s peace in my own life before I can become an effective peacemaker to others.
Candle of Blessing
We read in Ephesians 1:3 that “God … has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” and St. Paul in the verses following describes these blessings that are ours in Christ. Among them are the call to holiness, the gift of divine adoption, the grace to have a unique spiritual relationship with God through Christ, the gift of faith, the responsibility to glorify and praise Him, and the revelation of God’s plan for us.
When Jesus was born that night so long ago in Bethlehem, He lit for us this candle of blessing. What are we to do with these blessings? Accept them, and use them and live them in such a way as to bring praise and glory to God. My candle of blessing “must shine before others, that they may see (my) good deeds and glorify (my) heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:15-16.
I am sure, brothers and sisters, that you can think of other candles that were lit that night in Bethlehem. For instance, how about the Candle of Reconciliation, the Candle of Hope, the Candle of Forgiveness, or the Candle of Joy? Perhaps you and your family can ceremoniously light up all these candles, one by one, during the Christmas season to better see the effect that these candles have in banishing the darkness around us. As a family, in your action group, in your parish group, reflect and share with each other how you can keep these candles lit throughout the coming year, and what effect their light would have on your life personally and as a family.
For me, not only do I intend to relight the Bethlehem candles but I pray that I may keep them alight throughout the year. With Christ as my Light, this is the least I can do.
-by Nancy R. Catan, BCBP Manila