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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lighting the Candle

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and
our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim
to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has
appeared to us… This is the message we have heard from him
and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
I John 1:1-2, 5

How I love all the lights of Advent and Christmas! There are the Advent candles, the bright lights on houses, the paper bags filled with sand and candle-luminarias, and the magical lights hung on the tree. Lights are the essence of the good news and joy that Christmas brings.

The first electrically lit Christmas tree was the creation of Edward H. Johnson, an associate of Thomas Jefferson, in 1882. Just three years after Edison invented the light bulb, Johnson wired 80 red, white, and blue electric lights for the Christmas tree at his home in New York City. As the colorful lights glowed through the Johnson’s front window, long lines of people gathered to watch in amazement. Some knocked on the front door wanting a closer look.

In 1895 President Grover Cleveland proudly displayed the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House. Then, as more people got electricity in their homes, electric lights for the tree became more and more popular. In 1910, General Electric introduced the first string of Christmas lights that could be purchased for about twelve dollars, a large sum at the time. No longer having to worry about the danger of lit candles on the tree, people began putting up their Christmas trees earlier and leaving them up longer. On Christmas Eve in 1923, President Calvin Coolidge flipped the switch to light the first National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse, south of the White House.

All the lights of Christmas that delight young and old alike, speak to something deep within. Nothing better expresses the joy and true meaning of Christmas than lights shining in the darkness. In today’s Scripture text the Apostle John is telling us about something that he himself had heard Jesus say: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” The Son of God whom John says he had “heard…seen…touched” came with this simple message: God’s very nature and character is light. All that physical light represents for us in the physical world, God is for us on every level of life. God shines on us, gives us life, helps us see clearly, exposes danger, and shows us the day. He lights up our life.

So the first thing that the Apostle John wants to tell us is that God is light. When anyone draws near to God, he will not find some dark and foreboding figure, or threat of despair and destruction. He will find light and joy and peace. This is the message of Jesus’ life, John says. This is what Jesus came to show us: “God is light; and in him is no darkness at all”.

It was through Bethlehem’s dark night that lowly shepherds stumbled toward that Light, a baby called Jesus, whom Isaiah named Immanuel, God-with-us. Every Christmas light and candle tells the wondrous message that God is light, and that He is with us.

Light of lights! All gloom dispelling,
Thou didst come to make thy dwelling
Here within our world of sight.
Lord, in pity and in power,
Thou didst in our darkest hour
Rend the clouds and show thy light.
Praise to thee in earth and heaven
Now and evermore be given,
Christ, who art our sun and shield.
Lord, for us thy life thou gavest,
Those who trust in thee thou savest,
All thy mercy stands revealed.
-Thomas Aquinas




Our loving Lord. Shine your light and joy on us today, and on all those we love, as well as those we find hard to love. Light up the path before us, and help us to see things more clearly. Help us to bring to your light that which we hide in the darkness. And when we doubt you, help us to know that you are light in whom there is no darkness at all. Amen.

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