Why is Jesus referred to as the “Light of the World” and how does that relate to Christmas?

The Light pierces the darkness. Jesus is the “true light” (Jn 1:9), the “Light of the World” (Jn 8:12; 9:5; 12:46), and he was born during the night watch (Lk 2:8), at midnight, when it was pitch black outside, the time when the darkness was the deepest and most intense. On that first Christmas night, the light shined in the darkness (Jn 1:5a), the glory of the Lord shone (Lk 2:9), the darkness has not overcome it (Jn 1:5b), and it enlightens everyone (Jn 1:9).

The long-awaited Light. The birth of the Christ child fulfilled Isaiah’s ancient prophecy:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone” (Is 9:1). The newborn Son of God shines like the sun; he is the “sun of justice” who brings “healing rays” (Mal 3:20).

The Symbolism of Light. Light is a rich symbol with many meanings. It can represent sacredness, sanctity, blessedness, or holiness; purity, innocence, goodness, or perfection; glory, splendor, grandeur, majesty, magnificence, greatness, or wonder; intelligence, enlightenment, insight, wisdom, intelligence, or knowledge; divinity; the presence of God; joy; and truth.

Light Symbols. The most common symbol for Jesus as Light is a single undecorated white candle. Such a candle can stand alone or be placed inside the Advent Wreath. Another common practice is to remove the four colored candles from the Advent Wreath on Christmas Day and replace them with four white candles for the rest of the Christmas season. Other ways to feature Jesus as Light would be to use white candles as a centerpiece on the dinner table, to place one or more white votive candles in prominent locations around the house, or to place a single white light or an array of white lights on the Christmas tree, a wreath, or any other decoration. In church the candles in the sanctuary also remind us that Jesus is the Light.

A Christmas Meditation. Candlelight can serve as a focal point for private prayer and meditation. Please consider the following as a possible way to pray. Set aside some time, maybe ten minutes, maybe half an hour. Be alone. Set a single candle on a table or a stand. Light it. Darken the rest of the room. Turn off any lamps. Pull the shades. Have the candle be the only light. Find a comfortable position facing it. Calm down. Take some deep breaths. Relax. Eliminate any mental distractions. Give your entire attention to the dancing flame and the glowing rays. Be wide-eyed. Let the light flood in. See Jesus in the light. Let Jesus brighten your life. Let Jesus warm your heart. Let his Word illumine your mind and guide your ways.

About Father Michael Van Sloun 

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Wayzata, Minn. As a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he has always been a teacher. He now teaches the faith as a homilist, Bible study leader, retreat director, pilgrimage guide and author of numerous articles.

© 2006, Rev. Michael A. Van Sloun
Used with permission.