Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Candle Lighting

In last week's blog posting, I talked about how dark the world is just before Christmas.  The Winter Solstice is almost here and with it comes the shortest amount of daylight of the entire year.  The sun breaks over the horizon somewhere between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. and disappears in the sunset between 5:30 and 6:00 pm.  Ten hours of daylight and long, dark evenings mark our days until Saturday, when after the Winter Solstice, little by little, in minute increments to begin with, the daylight begins to grow longer each day.  Christmas is celebrated just 4 days after we have the Winter Solstice.  The Early Church thought it was appropriate for us to think about Jesus, the Light of the World, coming into a world of darkness so we celebrate the birth of the Everlasting Light amid a world that is literally sitting in darkness, waiting for the light to return.  

My wife and I were in Austin last Friday and we went to a store that had sent me a card offering me 20% off my entire purchase as a gift for my birthday. We really did not need anything in particular from this store but it was as if the coupon card for my birthday demanded that we go there so we walked around and found a few things, most of which were already on sale and added the extra discount to them, making it feel like it was a good buy.  Among the things we bought were several candles and a package of 100 tealights, small candles that burn only a few hours and are all used up.  That is why you get 100 in a package.  It makes you feel like you are getting a huge amount even though you know each candle burns only a short time.  

Lighting a lot of candles at this time of year is something the people of Scandinavia do.  Norwegians do not tend to be very religious people but their lives have even more darkness than ours during the winter so they light many candles daily to push the darkness out of their lives.  Last week, on the day when I celebrated my birthday, Norwegians celebrated Santa Lucia Day.  On that day, the oldest daughter in each family wears a hand band with candles on it at breakfast as the family eats a special bread in celebration of Santa Lucia.  The family sings a song that tells about this saint.  This custom is repeated again and again in Norwegian society as children in schools and in various groups light candles and sing the song to recall the life of St. Lucia.  Great auditoriums are filled with processionals of girls and boys streaming in holding candles and singing the familiar song.  

There is a saying, "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness."  That saying reminds me of the words of Jesus that we are to be the light of the world, up high where everyone can see the light and give praise to God.  Our good works show others the light of Christ living within us.  Each time we say a kind word or do a good deed, it is as if we are lighting a candle for others to see.  The candle shows the light of Christ to others in our dark world.  

All through this winter, we plan to light many candles in our home.  Even after we take down the Christmas 
Tree and store it in its box until next December, we will continue to light candles to remind us that light does conquer darkness and that even when things seem very dark in the world around us there is a light that shines in the darkness that gives us hope.  

John's Gospel begins with the Prologue that sets the stage for what will happen in the Gospel.  John introduces John the Baptist who was a "witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him."  He reminds the reader that John "was not the light, but he came to testify to the light."  Then he proclaims, "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world."  (John 1: 7-9)  

Perhaps that is why Christmas is needed each year, to remind us that Christ is the light of the world and that the lives we live are to reflect that light to others around us.  Christ is the True Light and the light of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.  That is the Good News that needs to be shared, not only at Christmas but throughout the year.  

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