I strolled around our neighborhood recently around midnight. Our streets wake up in the darkness of night. People are drawn to the lights of the new marquee on the nightclub next door to the parish. The sounds of music from gay bars and strip clubs ring out from the dark doors of the buildings. Flickering lights proclaim the cocktail prices and glowing advertisements capture the attention of young adults to drink more beer. Small white Christmas lights bring light to some of the trees lining the street. The bright lights shining on our building also light up the doorway where some homeless people are sleeping. City lights point to sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.
Another light that shines in the night brings people to a different place. I stand in the nighttime Mass of Christmas proclaiming the collect as a warm light leading us to the place of Christ. This prayer seems brighter than the marquee and shines more clearly than the invitations for booze, prostitutes and numbing music. I experience this collect as a beacon of hope, a warm light that draws us closer to the presence of God in whom we all long. My voice becomes a source of compassion, my expressions a light that invites people just as they are to this place of prayer and service. The collect of Christmas Mass at night is a quiet light flickering in the competing lights of the seductive city. Under the shelter of our parish building, people who have the courage to enter our red doors for prayer will only see this light. This light shines from the inside out, from the texts of our prayer to the places of our hearts.
I pray this prayer realizing that somehow it creates a dividing line from so many other things I experience during the Christmas season. No matter the compulsive flickering of neon or the seductive lights in dark barrooms, the light that is expressed when the Mass begins is meant for the attention of all people who ache for healing, forgiveness and companionship. This prayer is meant for us to feel the warmth of the real Light, the person of Christ Jesus. In the depths of all of our prayers at Eucharist, there is a light of dignity, respect and prayer that needs to be drawn out from the text on the page. I pray this collect knowing how harsh and lonely Christmas can be for so many people. The Light embedded in this prayer is not an ancient light of the past, but the grace of God’s activity in our lives today. The Eucharist needs to warm the coldness of loneliness and darkness of doubt on Christmas Eve.
I especially invite priests into this reflection of the Christmas collect. For so many priests, the Christmas Mass can be chaotic and frantic after all the preparations of the Advent season. People’s sufferings expand during the holidays, pain seems deeper and isolation even more depressing. Mass can become something to endure for the pastor, obscuring this invitation to point a warm light on the person of Christ in our midst. The priest needs to stand solidly on the ground of the sanctuary and realize how much people need God to heal them. I invite the pastor to slow down, calm down and discover first the Light of Christ in the depths of his own loneliness. This takes more reflection that just picking up the Roman Missal minutes before Mass. This experience takes time, thoughtfulness and intention. There is grace buried in the heart of each sentence of the prayers of the Mass. People long to be lead into the place of love, compassion and hope. There is a great light that shines forth in the person praying these texts on behalf of all the people who stand in the dim light of their lives. We all wait for the mystery of this light on earth.
The action of Epiphany remains in our day. Jesus Christ continues to be revealed in our lives on earth. The journey to the place of love is for every believer. This collect of Epiphany also needs to be proclaimed by priests who understand the dark night. The priest is invited to reflect on his own experience of being lost, unlovable and on the quest for new life and purpose. The Light is seen clearly in the darkness.
Our worshipping assemblies no longer rely on a star to lead us to the light. We do have prayer texts within the Mass to guide us to places of hope. We do have people who have been touched by God’s mercy who become beacons of hope for many other people sitting in our congregations. We do have young people who put their careers on hold to work among God’s poor. We do have people who search for the Light deep within them selves and find new hope. I now walk amid the lights of the city being sent from the Eucharist believing even more in the light that guides us all.