I remember Christmas Eve candlelight services when I was a kid, when the room would go dark, and I couldn’t see the face of my brother or sisters next to me. Down front, there was one single tiny flame, one candle, flickering in the eerie darkness. Slowly, one candle at a time, the light of that flame was passed from person to person, each of us holding our tiny candle with the wax-paper hilt, as the light grew and grew until the faces of that entire room were lit up and glowing. I’m sure we sang a hymn at that point, maybe “O Come Let Us Adore Him?” Words we’re spoken, and then, at some point, we all filed out of the sanctuary, carrying our torches.
For many I know, and for us, this has been a hard year, and the hope for light to shine in the darkness is very real longing. We just went through, literally, the longest night of the year, yet many experience the long dark night day after day, week after week.
Though the darkness seems to be all around us, I’m reminded of an old quite attributed to Francis of Assisi: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
As I sat in church yesterday I thought of all those I know whose faces are darkened and upon whom there doesn’t appear to be light. Loss, hurt, tragedy, and death have touched so many. As we read the words of Isaiah 9, I had the faces of friends and family flash before me:
“On those who sat in deep darkness, a light has shone.”
As crazy as this season has been, as hard as this year has been, as deep as the darkness is at times, the story of Christmas is that the darkness did not and will not win. The Light came down to us, became one of us, in all the pain and sorrow and hurt and brokenness. He didn’t stand far off leaving us in the dark. He came down into it, He came near, close. He came down to push back the darkness not only around us, but within us as well.
I do so wish it was fully complete right now. I wish we didn’t have to endure the sometimes unbearable “already and not yet” but here, on the eve of the celebration of Jesus’ first advent, I am filled with hope. I have seen darkness, yes, but I have also seen the light pushing back the dark, just like those candles decades ago. I have seen it in the faces and lives of those who have walked beside us through our own dark, lights shining when we couldn’t see the way. I have seen it in the love of family and friends. I have seen it in kind words spoken in the midst of the pain of unbearable loss.
I have not only heard of this Jesus, laid in a manger, but in the lives of those who truly seek to follow His way, often at great cost. I have seen with my own yes, as my daughter once said, those who “love God, love people and punch back the darkness.”
May the Light of Christ shine in the darkness on you and those you love. Merry Christmas, everyone.