We are going into our third year of the COVID pandemic and it is beating us down, making us tired of the ‘new normal’ and pushing us into hopelessness and despair. It is a darkness that does not seem to have any ending. But it is still Christmas, and we are in the middle of the Octave of Christmas. We are celebrating the gift of light among the darkness. ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.’ Christ is born!! Light is piercing these dark times. Hope is come among us.
The Octave of Christmas allows us to dive deeply and celebrate what the Nativity of Lord means to us and our journey; and this 8 day celebration of Christmas more important this year than other years. The Octave is celebrated with different feast days that bring the import of Christ’s birth to us.
Usually, the day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, one of the first seven deacons and the first disciple to be martyred. He witnessed to the strength of faith and the love he had for Jesus in the face tremendous adversities. His darkness was profound, he was stoned to death, but the love of God pierced the darkness and showed him the path.
‘But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.’
Stephen’s witness to Christ stirred the hearts of at least one, Saul, soon to be the Apostle Paul. His story shows how Jesus stirs our hearts as well if we let him. The final moments of St. Stephen show us that light is brighter than darkness is dark, Love is stronger than fear and hate, Hope defeats despair. By his martyrdom, he provides assurance that the darkness of COVID is temporary, it is God that is eternal.
The following day is the Feast of St. John. St. John testifies to the love and hope of God in his Gospel. He testifies to the birth of our Lord in those beautiful words that Holy Mother Church has used during the Mass of Christmas day for millennia:
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 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.’
He witnessed to the Light that destroys darkness.
The following day we celebrate a horrible action that is yet a hopeful sign; the Feast of the Holy Innocents – a massacre of terrible proportions, a tragedy beyond all comprehension, and the hope that shines through its awfulness; the Love of God that makes good come from darkness. To mankind it seems that God allows these tragedies, but God does not will the death of any of His creation. He won’t prevent death, but He will bring good from it. We have hope in the knowledge, that God is always with us, come what may; and, that in spite the darkness, if we follow the light, we will win through to the glory and peace of our eternal home. As with the three men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) in the fiery furnace, if we submit to will of God and embrace the light of Christ we too will triumph.
The memorial of St. Thomas Becket comes next. We celebrate a man that reached great heights in this world. He was the chancellor to King Henry II of England and the archbishop of Canterberry. All of which did not prevent him from being murdered by order of his king. His triumph was his strength in the face of trials and following God over others. He understood that ‘…because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.’ he did not fear the darkness of men.
The Feast of the Holy Family, which is always on the Sunday within the Octave, we celebrate the strength of the Holy Family and by extension our own families. The struggles that Mary and Joseph had were considerable, overwhelming; darkness seemed to envelope them, but their faith strengthened them; they not only embraced the light but gave birth to it and nurtured it. And this is what our families should do. Our families are witnesses to this strength and love; or should be. It is within the family that faith is given birth and nurtured; parents witnessing to the love that they received and grew up on. Our family is the domestic church, where we grow within the embrace of Christ. Our family is the living witness to the Holy Trinity – dynamic, self-giving love – the help we give and receive through love. Families pass forward the light that was given to them. From our first entrance into the mystical body of Christ we have the light is given to us. In baptism we light a candle for the child and pass it to a godparent or parent hearing the words: ‘Receive the light of Christ.’ The celebrant then says: ‘Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He (she) is to walk always as a child of the light. May he (she) keep the flame of faith alive in his (her) heart. When the Lord comes, may he (she) go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.’ Families are that important and God is within each to help.
The Octave of Christmas ends with the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. She is our mother too. Her faith and life brought her to the Annunciation and God’s choice of her as Mother to His Son. This Solemnity not only celebrates the Blessed Mother and her journey in light but it brings us back to the Nativity. Her life is a life of faith! And faith brings hope and hope resides in the Light. Throughout our lives we return to the Christmas season to remind ourselves of the Light; we are children of the Light, and we reflect this Light to those in darkness. It is important to remember and reaffirm this truth, we are children of the Light, and as children of the Light we reflect it with our lives because we know this Light brings the hope of salvation. There is an old saying: ‘the shadow of the cross falls back across the manager’ meaning Christ was born to die for us and this is important for us to embrace; but more important is for us to realize that there is no shadow without light – the Light of the resurrection.
 Isaiah 9:2
 This year the day after the Solemnity of the Nativity of Lord is the Feast of the Holy Family
 Acts 7:55-58
 John 1:1-5
 Daniel 3: 8-25
 1 John 2
 Rite of Catholic Baptism