Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas in the Dark

Candles and lights aren't just pretty, they're pretty symbolic

While I have seldom put up lots of Christmas lights outside, and been pretty "simple" (others might say "lame") when I have, I do appreciate the beauty of them. I can look out my back windows and see an illuminated pond and a couple houses with radiant and colorful lights. Looking down my street I can see more such houses, including lights along a VERY long driveway. They are beautiful

We will have our Candlelight Christmas Eve Service this Sunday night, and I always look forward to the end where we light our candles and dim the other lights--the beauty of that moment is moving to me. And other than the wax drippings making life harder on our cleaning crew, everyone seems to enjoy it as I do.

The large number of light displays we see go far beyond the number of people who may understand what they mean. That is true with many of the elements of our culture's more secular observances of Christmas. They have manger scenes, but don't understand their significance. They sing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" (a very theologically rich carol) but pay little attention to ideas of being given "second birth" by the "incarnate Deity." And they put up all sorts of lights without understanding the historical and theological content.

Tim Keller reminded me of this in his book, Hidden Christmas. Our celebrations took their shape in the Mediterranean world, where late December has the shortest and darkest days. Lights didn't just add beauty, they made it possible to see! Large numbers of lights would make the darkness diminish--in some cases overcoming it temporarily. And this is the idea behind Christmas lights. Isaiah 9:2-9 tells us about people walking in darkness. That is a terrible position to be in. I've had a few walks in pitch dark, moonless nights and I gained a few bruises on some of those occasions. The darkness in Isaiah's context was spiritual, and is described in chapter 8 as turning our gaze earthward rather than heavenward--looking for "light" in the wisdom of other teachings and religions made by people."  The promise of chapter 9 was that a day would come where a great light would shine. This light is revealed in verses 6-7 as a child born, a son given, who would be "wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Everything would change for the better through seeing him.

We know this Child has come--He is the light that enlightens people, and that cannot be overcome by darkness--a great light indeed (see John 1). And Christmas candles and lights are silent but visible testimony to the coming of the great light in the great darkness--a light that brings hope and life to the world.

You cannot grasp the significance of Christmas until you realize that you live in a dark world, and that any ideas you may have about finding light or creating your own light are not only wrong, but deadly. Many people simply prefer darkness since it lets them hide their own shame (John 3:19). But faith in Jesus means that we realize that he is "the light of the world. Whoever follows [him] will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Let the lights and candles remind you not just of the darkness around them, but of the true light that leads us through and eventually out of darkness into the light of life. Follow the light!