Christmas Eve services are one of my favorite worship services of the year. I love the excitement of the day as people gather ready for the singing of carols and remembering the Nativity story. It seems that in every church I have ever attended or served the Christmas Eve service ends by singing Silent Night as candles are lit from the flame of the Christ Candle at the center of the Advent wreath. Every time I am caught up in the moment watching a dim light grow as candle after candle is lit and how the room seems to radiate warmth and brightness as candles are lifted high on the final verse. In those moments I forget the short days of winter, the disappointments and failures of the previous year, and the stress of the holidays. In those moments surrounded by the light I find a small flickering hope renewed by the community gathered in worship and the darkness no longer seems to loom over me but flee from the space.
Throughout Advent I have been reflecting on light and darkness. 2016 has been a year of great transition for my family as we moved across the state to serve a new appointment and it has been a year of turmoil and unrest for our nation and the world. We have been rocked by increased acts of terror, deep political divides leading to vicious arguments amongst friends and family, and what seemed to be a steady stream of deaths of actors and musicians. I walked into Advent feeling surrounded by darkness and that feeling of darkness did not seem to lighten as we moved closer to Christmas. I was caught in the preparations for Christmas Eve as our church prepared for seven worship services across two campuses, I was still trying to get last minute gifts finished, and then be ready to travel and visit family. I was simply not ready for Christmas 2016….until we began to light candles.
As the light began to spread across the room passed from person to person and that light shone brighter and brighter I was reminded of words used at another favorite worship service: Easter Sunday. As we walk the Pascal Candle into the sanctuary after the darkness of Good Friday we sometimes repeat the refrain: “The light of Christ rises in glory, overcoming the darkness of sin and death.” I felt in that moment the hope of Christmas and the promise of Easter fill my soul as I was reminded that Christ’s Light is not and can not be overcome by the darkness. That even when it seems like we are only holding up a candle in the midst of an immense darkness that the Light will overcome the darkness.
No matter what has happened in 2016 or what will happen in 2017 the Light of Christ still shines and as it does people encounter the hope that comes with the message of God with us, living with us, dying because of us, and rising to save us. His light cannot be overcome by the darkness and is actually rooting out dark places and establishing the Kingdom of God. Just like we passed the light from candle to candle we pass the Light of Christ from person to person as we love and serve in the example of Christ. When we welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and clothe the naked we are spreading the Light of Christ. When we make room for the outsider and visit the imprisoned we are shining the Light of Christ. My prayer for 2017 is that I can focus on the Light and continue the work of Christmas as we join together that all the world my see his light.