Darkness to Light

The people

The people who walked

The people who walked in darkness

deep darkness

have seen

have seen

have seen a great light.

adventweek2

One of my favorite moments of the whole year happens on Christmas Eve. Yes, you can probably guess it’s the singing of Silent Night with the candles, but probably not for the reason you think. It’s what happens right before it. When the world (or at least the church) is dark. Darkness. It’s a profound thing.

It is the symbol, the tangible evidence of everything that is lonely, scary, and sad.

The church goes completely dark and I sing the first verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, I speak the words of Genesis and John 1. When God proclaims light I strike a match. God said “Let there be Light” “Ptchhhh” the match strikes and flame appears, so vivid, so bright in the midst of the great darkness.

I’ve been walking in deep darkness this week. We lost a beloved member of our staff, it’s a crushing blow, he was my creative partner, my friend. He resigned to deal with a a crisis in his life. I’m heartbroken. I’m in the dark about where to go and what to do, about how to move forward.

Today as I watched the Advent Wreath be lit in the first service I realized that the first candle brings the most light. I’ve been reflecting on how this is the Hope candle. If you light a candle in the midst of darkness the room is flooded in light, no matter how small the light, any amount of light overcomes the darkness. It literally is painful on the eyes at first. It’s a miraculous things to watch, it’s one of the most beautiful images of God’s love I have ever witnessed.

But as you add to the light (as we did today) it’s not quite as satisfying as that first candle. We are making progress, the amount of light has literally been doubled, yet it is not as miraculous for some reason as when something was formed out of nothing. Yet again, there is a turn. On Christmas Eve we will light all five candles and then spread that light throughout the room and the light, the love of God entering the world is overwhelming.

I am always sad on Christmas Eve for those in the congregation, I wish they could see what I see. I see a room flooded with light, a candle illuminating each face, some smiling with their families proudly, some silently weeping from heartbreak. It is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Each candle a representation of God’s love for them. Every candle a remembrance that the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness, the darkness cannot, will not, and shall never overcome it.

For the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. As we add to our candles each week this is my hope and my prayer. Amen.

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This is the Day the Lord has Made

My first year out of Seminary, at my first church as a solo pastor, it just happened to be that Christmas Day fell on a Sunday.  In the churches I have served, like most mainline protestant churches, we have service on Christmas Eve night and only have church Christmas morning, if Christmas falls on a Sunday.  That year, there were mega churches in the area and around the country that decided to not have Sunday Services on Christmas because it was “family time”.

That year I wrote a sermon that “railed” (as much as I can do) against these churches.  I thought it was ridiculous that they would close church on a Sunday morning just because it fell on Christmas Day.  “What better way to teach our children what Christmas is all about than bring them to church on Christmas Day?” I asked (and still say when Christmas falls on a Sunday.)

But here’s the truth, I don’t like it when Christmas falls on a Sunday.  It is a family day. And I am exhausted from the night before.  But I get up, and bring my kids away from their toys to remind myself and them what Christmas is all about, that a child was born this day in the city of David, and he is the light of all the people.  That is why we celebrate.

Over the years of being a minister I struggle with the commercialization of Christmas, yet as a woman who grew up in America and has small children I also get caught up in it.  It is an opportunity to give gifts of appreciation of others, it is a time to overload my kids with toys they don’t need just to see the smile on their faces.  It is also a time to put up a Christmas Tree, decorate my house and bake cookies.

None of these things are biblical, and yet, I love them.  It’s not Christmas without them, my heart feels.  Yet my head knows that if we didn’t decorate our house or church or sing Christmas Carols, Christ would come anyway.

As much as I love Jesus, I also love hanging my stockings with care, and putting out the ceramic Christmas tree my beloved Aunt made years ago, and unwrapping each baby ornament as if they were as fragile as babies themselves.  And this decoration takes place the first weekend in December just as it did for my mother and her mother before that.  And the decorations don’t wait to come down until Epiphany, but come down New Year’s Day, just as it did for my mother and her mother before that.

There is something sacred for me in the non-sacred traditions of Christmas.  Not just following the routine my mother did, but wrapping the creche in the same paper I unwrapped it from. Each year getting a little softer and one or two more tears until when my children are older the paper will no longer be there to protect, but the paper itself will become an integral part of the tradition.

So yes, my Christmas decorations when up before Christmas and yes, the came down before Epiphany- but I still say, it’s okay.  Christ lives on despite our rules.  I can honor God and my family despite when the decorations come up or go down.  And yes, I will also remain hypocritical when I will follow this practice of Family tradition and not church tradition, because in 2016 (which I’m already not looking forward to) I will rail against churches who close on Christmas Day because it happens to fall on a Sunday and as they say that is Family Day.  Because Sunday is the Lord’s Day and despite everything, it is the day God made to come and adore.

Just though I would give you fair warning.