When I was a little girl, I was always enraptured by our Christmas Eve service. The beauty and music and smells were magical and spoke to me like nothing else. Every year, we sang a song that had been written especially for our congregation called “God Bless Us Everyone,” and every year there were the candles!
Everyone got a candle. Everyone. Even the kids. Long before you were deemed “responsible enough” to hold an open flame, you were still given the Christmas Eve candle, and reminded that you would be holding the Light of Christ, so be careful. It was like carrying the weight of the world in your hands (…there’s a sermon in there somewhere…). Then, towards the end of the service, as we sang Silent Night, the lights of the sanctuary would be turned off. We were left in darkness. My pastor Dr. Robert Marsh would take the Christ Candle from the Advent wreath, and we would begin to light the candles. As we passed the light down through the pews, magically, the church filled with light again. Many churches have this ritual, but Dr. Marsh did something that I have only experienced in my childhood church — at the end of Silent Night, when all the candles were shining, he would command us to take this light into the world. Benny Morgan, our fabulous choir director, would magically transform the chords of Silent Night into the refrain for Joy to the World, and we would sing our hearts out. That Joy had come to earth, was placed in each of our hands, and it was our job to take it into the world. Dr. Marsh was always very specific… we could not blow out our candles until we were in the parking lot by our cars (hard to do on windy winter nights). And we sang Joy to the World, over and over and over, until we were ushered out pew by pew – until the church was dark once again, but the parking lot was ablaze with the Light of Christ. For 18+ years, I did not just learn that the light of Christ came to overcome the darkness of this world, I embodied it. I became the bearer of that light, every Christmas Eve, long before I was “responsible enough” to understand the metaphor. So even today when I close my eyes, I can still smell the flames of the candles, mixed with the evergreen decorations and the cold night air of the open narthex door.
Today, we don’t light candles anymore. Instead, we sit in committees and talk about fire codes and insurance policies. We speculate that people walking with open flames will light each other’s hair on fire (after all… hairspray). We talk about how messy the wax will be. We make rules that help us to try and contain the open flame, and in doing so, we sorely miss the message. We miss the chance to embody Christ’s Light, to understand its power, and to physically take it into the darkened night. (hmmm… there is a sermon there as well).
As you sit in the darkness of this Advent season, waiting for Christ’s light to come once again, I would invite you to take a moment to light a candle. Sit with the power and wonder of the flame and sing Joy to the World (out loud, not just in your head). And then get up, with candle in hand, and walk outside. Stand in the darkness of the winter night, and embody that light. Remind yourself that we are called to be bearers of that light to a world still wrapped in darkness … this Christmas, every holiday season, and all year long.
Embody the Light again, and let your heart be transformed by its magic.