The one thing that Christmas trees and Christmas cribs have in common is an Angel or a star on top whose light shines down upon all that is beneath. Whether Christmas star or Angel, its light illumines what otherwise would remain in shadow. It reveals delights and gifts, warmth and hope; but most especially it reveals a child who would be the light of the world.

Whether it was by the light from heaven glorifying the shepherds, or the light in the heavens guiding the magi, both the lowly and the mighty were led to ‘the Light’, under which all people might find illumination. In the manger, among the animals, a baby would open the eyes of shepherd and magi alike, for they hoped for the gift of this light, who would shine for all.

Not all would open their eyes to receive this light. The rulers in Jerusalem were blind to the star in the sky. No one else in Bethlehem saw the angelic light that the shepherds witnessed. We will remain in the dark until we open our eyes.

Christmas is the living memory of this great and glorious light: that of the Christ-child, Emmanuel, who is “God-with-us”. Remembering the nativity of Jesus is the equivalent of opening our eyes to the light of that night. Jesus is the great gift of hope that God is with us; he loves us and binds us together, and remains with us, through thick and thin. This promise that comes to us from the past will not go away, so long as we open our eyes.

The old and wizened men of Jesus’ nativity – Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth, and Simeon, the prophet in the temple – both learned to see by His light with opened eyes. For Zechariah, Jesus was God’s dawning light for those caught up in the shadows of death, and a guide for our feet on the way to peace. Simeon, for his part, saw in Jesus a revealing light of salvation to all the nations and the hope of glory for each of God’s people.

The shepherds, once enlightened by seeing the child in the manger, went home to share their newfound hope with others. The magi, themselves illumined by the light of the Nativity, took a different road home in hope. Each – shepherd and magi, lowly and highborn – opened their eyes and in humility received an enduring light to guide them home.

At the end of this second year of pandemic, and through the shadows that have enveloped us, do we not desire to see by such a light? And as we turn towards a new year, with a desire for clearer air, is it not by this light that we are best guided on our way ahead?

May Jesus, son of God and child of Mary, and light to the nations, illumine both the darkened regions of the world and the shadowy places of the human heart. May we look to the light of his life, and find hope for our families and for ourselves. May the light of Christmas – the light of Jesus – spread out its rays: to bring reconciliation to enemies, to light up bridges over troubled waters; to reveal new paths towards a truly human society.

A child; a light; a hope. May these be yours this Christmas.