Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” [John 8:12 (ESV)]
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. [John 12:46 (ESV)]
Hundreds of years ago, when Las Posadas was first celebrated, people gathered piñon pine branches into square piles to burn small vigil fires called luminaria to light the way for the Peregrinos as they searched for lodging. On Christmas Eve, bonfires were lit along the roads and in the church yard to guide people to midnight mass. Just as Las Posadas moved into the southwestern states as the Spanish and Mexicans came northward, so did the luminaria. When inexpensive flat-bottom paper bags appeared on the Santa Fe Trail in the 1870s, people started folding down the bag tops, anchoring the bag with a few handfuls of sand, and setting a small candle inside. Better than using precious fire wood, these luminaria (also called farolitos) became the popular tradition that continues in the southwest today.
While I probably won’t be part of any Las Posadas celebrations when I’m in New Mexico next week, I will see plenty of luminaria, even though many of those who set them out know nothing of Las Posadas. Although some of those lanterns will be made of hard plastic and powered by electricity rather than candles, the warm glow of their flickering lights illuminate the walkways, sidewalks, driveways and flat roof tops throughout the state each December.
For those who celebrate Las Posadas, the luminaria serve to light Joseph and Mary’s way as they seek lodging. For others, luminaria guide the way to Christmas Eve worship, are a way of welcoming the Christ child into their homes, or remind them of the star of Bethlehem. Sadly, for many more, their luminaria are lit simply to guide Santa’s gift-laden sleigh to their houses.
Wherever we are this Christmas season, we’re sure to encounter holiday light displays. Whether they’re luminaria, projection spotlights, mini-string or large colored bulb lights, let their brightness remind us that Jesus is the Light of the World. When Christ’s light came into the world, it did more than illuminate our sins. It brought us salvation by guiding mankind out of the darkness of sin and death and into the light of Christ! Jesus called us to lead others into His light but we mustn’t stop at merely pointing the way to Christ. Jesus calls us to be the light—to be His luminaria and provide light for others.
The light of Christ shines brightest in dark and troubled times—and these are dark and troubled times. On a dark night, one individual paper bag holding a flickering candle in it isn’t very impressive and it certainly doesn’t shed much light. Collectively, however, hundreds of luminaria are an impressive sight. Darkness can never overpower God’s light but His light can overpower the world’s darkness. Let us be the world’s luminaria, not just at Christmas, but all year long!
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. [Martin Luther King, Jr.]