By John Thurman
Earlier this week, my wife and I attended the annual Christmas Tree Lighting service for our church. Like many of you we worshiped by singing old, familiar carols and hymns, heard a dramatic reading of the Story of the Birth of Jesus. At the completion of that part of the service, my pastor, Todd Cook invited us to join him outside for both a candle lighting service and the turning on of the Christmas Tree.
We moved from the worship center, picking up our small candles and walked into the chilly New Mexican evening with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Once we were all outside the announcer, let us know that all of the outside lights were going to be turned off.
As Todd began the candle lighting portion of the service, he reminded us that the Christian faith is always one generation away from being lost. He told us that The Story of Christ Birth started in a little village name Bethlehem and spread by word of mouth for hundreds of years until it was written down and included in the Bible.
Lighting a candle in the church began as something convenient, illumination, a light source. But like so many things in church history, as the years passed well-meaning believers sought meaningful symbolism in what they did.
Most clergy in a liturgical church will tell you that the candle represents Jesus as the Light of the world, or that the light and fire represent the presence and power of God (similar to the pillar of fire that led the children of Israel in the exodus). Some might say that each believer lights a candle before worship to symbolize his/her life as an offering, being burned up in service to God. All of these (and many more could be added) are nice gestures of symbolism. Christian faith is filled with symbolism, some of which came from pagan practices, all of which are helpful to instruct us and to help us understand our faith in a way that goes beyond the intellectual level. Anything you do, like getting on your knees in prayer as an act of humility, can be beneficial and meaningful for communicating nuances of our faith beyond the intellect.
Why on earth would I be talking about candles?
That night at Sagebrush Church, I was keenly aware of the symbolism of the candle lighting service. Even though I have lit many candles in many worship services in my life, this one was particularly meaningful, as I’d recently returned from being involved in the recovery efforts in the Florida Panhandle. While away, I’d seen scores of churches that had been destroyed or damaged by the hurricane. At the same time, I heard of how these congregations and their communities were pulling together. In talking with the locals, several mentioned how they had been involved in candlelight services a few days after Hurricane Michael had come ashore and that those services were pivotal in beginning the rebuilding process.
The other night, as I as I observed parents, children of all ages, as well as fellow grandparents pick up their candles with a sense of excitement and reverence as we moved into the cold, New Mexican night, I felt reconnected to home.
As Todd was wrapping up his message, he reminded us that The Story, which began all those years ago must continue to be told and with that, he started to light the candles closest to him.
As my wife and waited for the light to come our way I could see the parents of preschoolers gently coaching the little ones on how to hold their candle and how to share the light it provided. Loving and observant moms and dads shared soft smiles as their children received the light from others. Slowly, the darkness of the churches open spaces began to fill with the soft, warm orange glow of candlelight as the small flame became a symphony of small flames lighting up the night. Once the light had been passed to all of the attendees, the Christmas Tree was lit.
In this ’70s there was a popular Christian song called “It Only Take a Spark,” which was made famous by the singer Evie Tornquist, you might enjoy googling it. In this classic song, she talks about the importance of sharing God’s love.
In the years before that classic song was another vintage tune that many of us learned as little ones, do you remember “This Little Light of Mine.” Just for kicks, you should Google it.
What on earth does all this mean?
I think Todd said it best, “We are the Story, and it is up to us to share the Story of who Jesus is, with our words, our actions, and our deeds.”
How about you, are you sharing the Story?
I’d love to hear your feedback?
Have a Wonderful Advent Season.
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