Every year my church puts on a candlelight service for Christmas Eve, and it's beautiful. We sing carols together, listen to our talented friends and neighbors perform for us, and lower the house lights as we pass a single flame candle to candle so that everyone is bathed in candlelight to remember our Lord, who is light and came down to shine all the brighter on Christmas Eve two thousand years ago.
In studying Advent custom in Liturgical churches for this project I encountered the Catholic tradition of lighting a separate candle on Christmas Eve for each prayer request.
Like other sacraments this practice is symbolic, to a point, but I like to believe the smoke from the candles actually wafts up to God, as a fragrant offering, and He sees us, and remembers that we are His. Or maybe it's not to change God but to change us; I sure can imagine it being good for the heart.
Oftentimes we Evangelicals talk about faith as if it is something we give assent to intellectually, independent of what we do with our hands and feet. But if we could learn anything from our High Church brethren it is that our hands and feet are part of the worship process. Rituals and sacraments are precious, holy ways to engage the head, heart and hands in communion with the Divine (corresponding with the Catholic habit of crossing oneself, signifying God in the mind, God in the heart, God in the left hand and God in the right).
So this Christmas Eve I light candles.
I light a candle for my cousin and her family who are mourning the loss of a beloved grandmother. God be with them, and with all who grieve.
I light a candle for my friends who decided to pull away from me this year. I give them to God.
I light a candle for the kids in juvy, kids without good friends or loving parents or stable homes. I know God can save them, and I trust Him to.
I light a candle for those overwhelmed by stress and circumstance, who are overworked and under-appreciated.
For those who hold onto secrets for fear they will be rejected. May they realize they are fully known by this God who gives love and grace to all who ask.
For my Young Life friends trying to figure out this whole Jesus thing. They are brave, and they are going through hard times. God take care of them. God be with them.
For my high school friends at Springfield Faith Center. May they come to know their value in the eyes of their Designer. May they learn to serve the world in His name.
For my family. In all their glorious messiness, Lord be present. Be our sovereign God. Take care of us.
Take care of us Lord. See these candles, smell them, hear the crackle of flame eating up the wick.
My friend Rachel reminded me today that darkness does not have victory over light. Not ever. Stick a candle or lamp in any dark room and the darkness flees. It has to. Light is stronger.
Jesus is our light. John 1 tells us as much:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.
He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known." (1-18)
Throughout this Advent series I have whined and moaned ad nauseum, lamenting my inability to participate in the spirit of Christmas cheer. I wondered how to experience life in the midst of holiday dissonance. And this is as good an answer as I've found: it is legitimately comforting for me to know the darkness will not win, cannot win. Because the Light is bright, and came down to shine straight into our cloudy eyes.
God is light in the darkness. To remember, we light a candle.
“God became light in the hope of being understood by the darkness. It is the central miracle of incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light.” Frederick Buechner