A Very interesting question this year~
I remember vividly the Christmas Eve of 2008. We had a record snowfall that day of almost 27 centimeters…nearly a foot of snow… We definitely were NOT ready for that!
My guess is that you remember that Christmas Eve, too. You may have been one of the people shovelling and salting the sidewalks up to the doors of the church!
Well, the snow was one thing…but later that day…there was a power outage! No lights. No heat. No electricity at all. And just before the Christmas Pageant.
Well…we decided to go ahead with the service. A number of people had made it to the church. I think we only needed one stand-in for a pageant character. The rest were all there! People got to work finding and lighting candles…placing them in the window sills along the sides of the sanctuary. Other candles were used for Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and kings. Some candles were placed on the piano so our musician could have some light. Someone held a flashlight during the carols so she could read the music.
So the pageant went on. With candlelight. With no microphones. No one complained that they couldn’t hear or see. There was a kind of hush…a peace…a warmth that we could almost touch - it was so real among us. We indeed experienced Emmanuel, God-with-us.
If Christmas is about God coming to us in unexpected and surprising ways, and especially in difficult times, that’s what it felt like that unusual Christmas Eve. In a power outage beyond our control, God came to us in the small flames of candles, in good will, in the spirit of willingness and even adventure, and in the in the presence and love of one another…
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given…”. These words from O Little Town of Bethlehem rang true that night.
It is a small sample of our Christmas story. Who knew there would be a call for a census when Mary was almost due to deliver her child, the one whom, she had been told, would save their people. There would be no familiar support for Mary and Joseph in the birthing of Jesus. They knew of no known sources of help. Yet God came to them.
Through an innkeeper who found a place for them to give birth in his cattle-shed. Through some poor shepherds who had heard an angel song telling them to go to Bethlehem… you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger…
And later through some magi who had followed a star to where they were.
Not what they had expected. Not what they may have thought they needed. Certainly not fair and just. Yet the small flame of God’s presence, shown in these unexpected ways, turned out to endure and bring life into the future right to today.
Here we are in 2020 – in a power outage of our own - in a pandemic that is beyond our control. Along with the far-reaching effects at so many levels, the usual ways that we celebrate Christmas are not available during the current restrictions. We cannot meet in our homes with people outside our household and if we are single, we are limited to 2 people who have to remain the same until after restrictions are lifted. We cannot meet in our churches. So the power of physical connection at our fingertips, whenever and however we want it, is not available. That source of power has gone out and it is out of our control.
But what we do have is the power to light a candle. A small flame to remind us that God is with us even when…and maybe “especially when”.
In many ways it’s the story of our human lives from the beginning.
Maybe that’s why John started his Gospel with “in the beginning”.
In the beginning was the Word…All things came to being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What came into being in him was life and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
We can still access this very “in the beginning” light, even when the power of our usual ways goes out.
The power of our usual ways of meeting together has gone out. But we can light some candles for our home and inner sanctuaries. We can hold the light for one another.
Even when we cannot meet in person, we do have the light we carry inside of us. What we do have is love for one another. What we do have is trust in Emmanuel, God with us.
Lighting our candles at home can kindle a power that arises from within us, that is not dependent on a light switch.
The small flame reminds us of times past when God has been with our ancestors in unexpected ways. Times in our own lives when we look back and things seemed to be impossible and the life and light of God showed up in some surprising way…affirming that God is not going to abandon us.
The flame brings us to the present moment, grounding us in this moment where God always abides in grace and hope, and peace and joy. In this moment we have love to share with one another in different and spirit-inspired ways…
And the flame gives the light of hope for the future - that God will be there in each of our tomorrows. We have the power to imagine God’s creative work into the future and that same guiding light present in each moment.
God is not making it difficult for us. God is not hiding from us, but we often hide from God or lose our way… Also the story of our human lives from the beginning. We run, we hide, in our busy-ness, our control, our fears, our mistakes, our self-depreciation.
But the light still shines in the darkness.
This year, when people ask “Are you ready for Christmas?!”,
how about telling them that you are lighting candles.
Small flames that say God is with us; that God’s love is not cancelled.
Small flames we hold for one another.
Small flames that say hope is alive
and that point to the One in whom we find our peace
today, tomorrow, and always.
Let’s light up the night!
As you shelter in place,
know that you carry the gift of God’s Love and Light in you.
So let it shine in your hearts and your homes.
Freely share it with others.
And the Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace of Christ be your guide,
now and always. Amen.