The Darkness of Christmas

Scientists tell us that we crossed a line last night. At approximately 6:03 PM Eastern Standard Time, the Northern Hemisphere entered that astronomical moment known as the Winter Solstice. For the next six months, the days will gradually be getting longer, and the nights, shorter.

It just so happens that this annual nadir of daylight falls a few days before the most orgiastic public celebration of darkness on the present Western calendar. Unlike Thanksgiving, where one simply eats and drinks to excess, we not only engage in the same gastrological excesses at Christmas, but combine them with an excess of consumption of all kinds. In doing so, we allow the twinkling tree lights and flashing advertisements to deceive us into thinking that we are living surrounded by light, rather than in darkness.

Now, I enjoy gift-giving, good things to eat and drink, and parties just as much as any sensible man. Yet when we celebrate Christmas without a thought to what it means to be a Christian, then I must tell you, though you may not wish to hear it, that we are celebrating darkness. We might as well open the encyclopedia and adopt whatever pagan religious festival we come across, as an excuse for eating too much and going into debt through excessive shopping.

Christmas, you see, is actually about the existence of darkness, and how more often than not, we choose to embrace it. Indeed, we have come to love darkness so much, that God Himself had to intervene in our world in a physical way, to show us just how selfish and willful we had become. Sadly, in looking at the world in which we live, we seem intent on falling even further into that dark embrace.

The placing of the Birth of Christ at the time of year in which it occurred means more than it might, at first, appear. If December 25th is as good a candidate as any for the date of Christmas – and there are many valid reasons for accepting this ancient tradition, which I shall not address here – then we might consider what that day is generally like where He was born. The weather forecast for Bethlehem on Christmas Eve this year is 44 degrees Fahrenheit for the low (about 6 degrees Centigrade.) Whether in the 1st century or the 21st, that is not exactly balmy.

Yet whatever the actual forecast may have been, without question the Nativity occurred on one of the darkest nights of the year, thanks to the tilting of Earth on her axis. It’s interesting to consider the fact that God did not choose to enter the world in the warmth and light of summer. Instead, His Birth took place in poverty and humility, probably in the cold, but certainly surrounded by darkness.

We all know that the only way to get rid of darkness is by shining a light on it. This is what we mark at Christmastide when, as Christ says, “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in Me might not remain in darkness.” (St. John 12:46) Jesus Himself recognizes that His Birth, Ministry, Passion, Death, and Resurrection are all geared toward getting us out of that darkness, but none of it can begin until He comes into the world at Christmas. Once He does, the darkness begins to dissipate.

As we go about doing all of those things we *have* to do for Christmas, we forget the darkness which made Christmas necessary at our peril. It is only through His light which broke through the physical darkness that night in Bethlehem, amidst winter chill and shabby poverty, that we can see how far into darkness we have really fallen. Let us try, this Christmas, to make a bit more time for reflecting on that fact. For the darkness will only go away, when we allow Him to cast it out by His light.

"The Adoration of the Shepherds" by Caravaggio (1609) Museo Regionale, Messina, Sicily

“The Adoration of the Shepherds” by Caravaggio (1609)
Museo Regionale, Messina, Sicily

Thursday Night in DC: A Classical Christmas Concert

During the Advent and Christmas season, there are usually a surfeit of Christmas concerts for those who love music.  Unfortunately, many of them take place on weekends.  This makes it impossible to attend more than one or two, due to the overlapping of these events.

Fortunately for those of you in the DC area, tomorrow night – Thursday – you have the chance to attend a Christmas concert that does not take away from your already-booked weekend schedule before Christmas arrives next week, and to do so with a truly international talent.

Soprano Alina Kozinska will be celebrating the season in song, poetry, carols, and Sacred Scripture, along with Pianist Patricia McKewen Amato, Actress Renata Plecha, and a cast of soloists/musicians. The program includes works by Bach, Vivaldi, Schubert, and others.

The concert will take place at 7pm at St. Stephen Martyr Church in Foggy Bottom.  St. Stephen’s is located on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Street NW, a short walk from the Foggy Bottom Metro station. There is usually plenty of street parking around the neighborhood, or in one of the garages nearby.

Ms. Kozinska teaches voice at The Peabody, and sang for Pope St. John Paul II at the Papal Mass in Camden Yards when he visited Baltimore (I was there and remember her well.) Therefore this promises to be quite the evening. And for those of you who have never visited my parish of St. Stephen’s, which seems so nondescript from the outside, don’t take my word for it: ask someone who has attended Mass or a concert there. They will tell you that the acoustics of the church are absolutely superb for performances such as this.

Hope to see many of my DC readers there, and if you spot me, do come over and say hello after the concert!

St. Stephen's at Christmastide

This Saturday Night in DC: Advent Stations

If you were at the Catholic Information Center last night for the Christmas Poetry Party, then you know that I took a bit of a risk of never being invited back to speak there in pointing out the Dominican friars in attendance, and asking the audience to talk to them later about a very special event which they are organizing in DC this Saturday. What can I say? I am a well-known groupie of the Dogs of the Lord (Domini Canes).

If you were not there, but you do happen to be in the DC area this weekend, then I hope you’ll join me at historic St. Dominic’s Church, just a couple of blocks from The National Mall, this Saturday December 13th at 7pm for the service of Advent Stations. It is being organized by the Dominican student brothers from the Dominican House of Studies here in Washington. It promises to be a highly memorable event, and hopefully one that will become an annual must-attend, like the very popular Vigil of All Saints and Tenebrae services held at Dominican House every year.

There will be 6 stations around the church, each with a different preacher preaching at the station itself. The six topics will be:

- The Fall of Adam and Eve (Gen 3)
– Noah and the Great Flood (Gen 6)
– Abraham and the Sacrifice of His Son (Gen 22)
– Moses and the Burning Bush (Exod 3)
– Ezekiel and the Vision of the Temple (Ezek 43)
– David’s Psalm of Kingship (Ps. 110)

The 7th station will have no preaching, but instead will feature the chanted words of the Prologue from St. John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-14). There will also be music sung between each station, including hymns, chants, and polyphony. I also have it on good authority that there will be 600 candles employed in the darkened church during the service which, in such a magnificent building accompanied by beautiful music, should be quite atmospheric. And there will even be a relic of Bethlehem itself: a true piece of the crib in which the Infant Jesus was placed when He was born.

For further information, please be sure to check out the Facebook invite, or these articles from Kathryn Lopez in National Review Online and also over at Chant Cafe. Catholic or not, you are most welcome! Hope to see you there!

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St. Dominic’s in Washington, DC