Along with many, it is one of my favorite parts of Christmas Eve. On one of the longest nights of the year, we come together in the darkest part of it. We hear the much loved story of God coming to us in human flesh. We sing the familiar carols. And we dim the lights and we light candles. It has long been my practice to ask those gathered to carefully lift their candles high. It’s not that they can’t be seen when we hold them close, but it is such a striking image to see the faithful and the hopeful lift their lights heavenward. It always warms my soul.
And so it is that we think of December as a time when we especially need ‘the light’ — symbolized for us in tapers held high. And yet, I find I need it even more now than I did a month ago. I can’t say it is because things have slowed down — for life in the congregation is every bit as busy in January as it is in December — it is just different. And maybe it is because I have been wading through the grief of others — again, not unusual in this post holiday season. And yes, it is so that I am experiencing this national season in our country as one which holds more darkness than light — as of this writing, I am transfixed by the spate of executive orders which have been signed in these last days, most recently the one which impacts refugees. To top it all off, for the better part of the last month, the sky in the place I call home has been heavy with clouds. Without a doubt, the darkness within its compounded by the darkness outside. And so, with all of this and more, it is so that I am yearning for ‘light.’
Today Jesus speaks to us of light. Only this is not the light that shines from the sky. No, this is not even the light I seem to increasingly need to decipher a recipe or to read a novel. No, this is the light that comes from within —- the kind that shines through individual people and whole communities of people for as he says here in Matthew,
“You are the light of the world.”
Only that is where the difference ends, it seems to me.
- For both kinds of light can bring clarity and understanding.
- Both can and do illuminate the way.
- Both are vitally important to life itself.
- And neither one can (or should) be hid — just like that city on a hill. Indeed, the light that comes from within is never, ever meant for me and mine, for ourselves alone. While the light of Christ can’t help but warm us, too, it is always meant for the ‘other.’ It is always meant for the world.
Only it seems obvious to me, this:
One cannot ‘be light’ or ‘bear light’ for others unless we have experienced and/or received this gift of ‘light.’ If my world is shrouded in darkness, it is awfully hard to ‘let my light shine…’ as Jesus’ words today would have us do. And yet, somehow, even if the ‘light’ I am given to shine seems so small — it surely goes a long way. Indeed, I have heard it said that if the earth were entirely flat, you could see the light of a flickering candle thirty miles away. So it doesn’t take much light for it to be seen.
I do not know when the sun will shine again here in Northern Illinois or upon us here in this country where darkness surely threatens. But I do know this. The Light still shines.. even when it seems as though it doesn’t. And when it seems that it doesn’t, well, then I expect it starts with you and me. And maybe we simply start by looking for ‘light:’
- Light that is gift.
- Light that can be received.
- Light that can be passed along.
Here is where I have found myself thinking about this kind of light in these past days:
- Last week I sat down with the director of our homeless shelter here in DeKalb. While I surely must have known this before, somehow the ‘light’ came on for me when she told me that Hope Haven is 2nd only to the County Jail in terms housing the mentally ill in this county. That light shined with laser brightness onto my own conscience a short time later when she told me they were having to ration toilet paper for their residents. I’m not even sure what that looks like, but I was given a window into what might be done now. And so in my congregation for the month of February we will be collecting toilet paper and giving it to some of the most vulnerable among us. And maybe this will give us a way to begin a conversation about why it is so that the jail and the homeless shelter appear to be the only options in our neighborhood for people who are so fragile. Maybe we can start to shine light on this and them even in a time when too much of the world seems to care so little for such as these. And maybe that shining light will serve as both beacon and promise to our neighbors — both those who are so vulnerable and those who have extra toilet paper to share.
- Last week-end members of three area Lutheran congregations gathered in the basement of the Islamic Center to learn together about hospitality —- both how to be a guest and how to be a host. In a time when too many are afraid of those who differ so from us, thirty ordinary Lutherans crossed a boundary, made themselves vulnerable, and from what I can tell, came away better for it. In just showing up, they were light. Only the light was reflected back to us when Flora and her two children showed up. Flora’s faith home is the Islamic Center. Entirely by accident she had been there the day before when we went over for a ‘walk through’ of the space we would be borrowing. She suggested then that she might join us the next day and so she did — sitting at table and sharing conversation and a meal with neighbors who had been strangers — shedding ‘light’ on what makes us more alike than different.
These are small things, I know. But in a world where darkness threatens, even a small light can make a difference. And that Light is ours to shine it, isn’t it?
And so I wonder now…
- Where have you seen light, lately? How have you been light and how has that light been reflected back to you? And how are you called to be light tomorrow?
- How might even our small ‘lights’ make all the difference? Indeed, what does it mean for you and me and us together to ‘let our lights shine’ as Jesus calls us to now? How might those lights bring understanding and direction and hope?
- Along with many occasionally I feel paralyzed in the face of so much ‘darkness,’ especially as I recognize it is mine to be a spiritual leader in the midst of it. One of the ways I am choosing to shed and share ‘light’ is by educating. For now I am starting with the basics. Rooted in the understanding that to follow Jesus is to be people of welcome, I am sharing a resource which comes from Lutheran World Relief, an organization which has ministered to and with refugees since 1945. You can find their list defining just what a ‘refugee’ is here. And so I wonder now: what gifts of light are you called to bring to this particular present darkness? Would you be willing to share them in this space?
- Finally, what does it mean for us to first receive the light we are called to share? How will we be strengthened and sustained as we listen and respond to Jesus’ call to and for us now to be ‘the light of the world?’