Friday, December 25, 2009

Being Light: The Way You Do the Doing

Light is so plain yet so elusive in its source. We have to be content to love it in its captured forms. This is the season of that capturing: in candles, in the warm glow of fireplaces, in electrical glows, and in Jesus’ coming...” on this day which we call Christmas.

The most obvious source of light for us in the sun. Most of us have experienced the sun’s miracles. Shivering, we seek its warmth. Because of its rays our houseplants turn green and healthy; our pale linens grow whiter. We dry and preserve fruits in the sun; we heat homes, buildings, and whole communities with solar energy. No wonder that for centuries the sun has intrigued humans, and often even become the object of their worship. The sun’s light and warmth is a natural symbol of God’s enlightening and comforting presence.

Scripture mentions light in many places. The people of the Bible generally used oil lamps as their primary source of light. These lamps were shallow bowls with one edge pinched together to form a trough which held a wick. The poorest home kept a lamp burning, day and night. It signified that there was life within the house; and absence of light indicated possible trouble.

In later centuries the candle became a traditional source of light. Most frequently today candles remind us of birthdays. Perhaps some of our most vivid and treasured memories center around times when a birthday cake, covered with
candles, was carried to us. We remember how a hush fell over those surrounding us and little children, mesmerized by the light, wanted to blow out the candles as if each one thought it was his or her own birthday.

In Christian tradition, whenever the community comes together to celebrate the Lord’s presence in word and sacrament, lighted candles are used to symbolize that presence and the new possibilities which Jesus holds out to us. The dancing flames remind us, too, of God’s Holy Spirit who continually ignites fresh hope within us. Through the four weeks of Advent prior to Christmas, both in our churches and in many of our homes, we’ve burned the four candles of the Advent wreath to symbolize the longing and expectation of people from the first man and woman created right down to the newest-born infant among us. On this holy feast of Christmas the candles are another visible reminder that, indeed, Jesus the Christ has come among us and will come again.

Each year’s celebration of Christ’s becoming man, and each reading of the introduction to John’s Gospel (Chapter 1:1-14) holds out to us a new awareness of what Jesus can mean for us, and to a new decision about how you and I will live in the light of his example of love for others in the New Year.

On this Christmas day you and I might look at our own life, with today’s Gospel reading as a backdrop, as a candle. A candle’s flame, in the drafts and air currents, will often reach out to the shadows, even overreach itself sometimes, and go out completely. That’s so very much like you and me: when we overreach our abilities, when we try to be the all-encompassing light ourselves, through pride, a know-it-all attitude, through accomplishments and wealth, through our workaholism, through our inability to be bothered with others’ needs. St. John reminds us today: “
He [John the Forerunner] was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

A candle can’t re-light itself: it depends on someone outside itself to rekindle the light and the warmth. Only Jesus can rekindle the light of God’s presence and realness in our lives. “I
n him was life, and the life was the light of humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” You and I are sent to help rekindle Christ’s light in others’ lives gone dark with sickness, need, oppression or depression, and lack of love. Sometimes we need not look very far away: to someone, perhaps, in our immediate family or among our close acquaintances. In the first reading (Isaiah 52:7-10) the prophet says that we’re to bring “good tidings”, that we’re to proclaim peace and salvation. That is “Good News” -- Gospel -- not something, but a living, caring person: Jesus the Light.

My former wife’s grandfather, Kenneth Bolt, who lived into his 90’s, was a remarkable and astute man. While not aligned with any church community, he had his own deep religious convictions. In a Christmas note he once wrote: “
So many times in life there are opportunities to do for others -- in the same way you would have them do for you. But there is more than just the doing of the doing that you do; it’s the way you do the doing...

His comment reminded me of a story made popular by the famous broadcaster, Paul Harvey, many years ago, one which describes well the way God “did the doing” for us. It was a story about an unbelieving man on Christmas Eve. There’d been a ferocious winter storm in the village where he lived on a small farm. Temperatures had dipped dramatically, to the point where he noticed that the birds ran the risk of freezing to death. The man trudged out to the barn through the snow and turned on the light. After trudging back and watching for awhile, he noticed that none of the birds flew into the lighted barn. He trudged back out, putting down bread crumbs leading into the barn. Still no results. He reflected for a long time on how he could get them to go into the barn. The thought finally came to him that about the only way they’d come in out of the cold was if somehow he could become as one of them and show them the way in...

Just at that moment, he heard in the crisp air the village church bells, ringing in the feast of Christ’s birth on this earth. And he, now feeling, as it were, the light of a monumental personal insight, fell to his knees, tears streaming down his face...

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our forbears by the prophets; but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son...” And you and I, sons and daughters of a loving God, who celebrate the birth of Jesus today: how will you and I speak to and do for those who need us the most in the days and weeks of the New Year ahead??

...there is more than just the doing of the doing that you do; it’s the way you do the doing...

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