‘The light shines in the darkness’Curtis K. Shelburne December 22, 2022 0 COMMENTS
Four candles. At church, we lit four candles this morning. I’m talking about Advent candles. One for each of the four Sundays before Christmas. And now, only the “Christ candle,” the large white one in the center of the Advent wreath, is left.
I didn’t grow up lighting candles at church. I do remember getting to light candles at a wedding in my hometown church once. My brother and I were pressed into service as candlelighters. Using real candle-lighters. We looked like altar boys in training. And I still think it was probably a mistake to let Jim loose with fire. But we lit a lot of candles, and I liked it.
I was taught many good things at that church that have blessed me all of my life, and I treasure many of the relationships, but I still think we were short on candles. I’ve been trying to rectify that for a number of years now.
I won’t go into the history, but, truth be told, I think we were a little wary of anything that was perhaps too beautiful. We were certainly wary of anything at all “ornate.” Were our Puritan roots partially responsible? I think so. Right along with the idea that what was not “authorized” in Scripture was forbidden (as if the New Testament were simply an update on the Old, a revised book of laws; as if the cross-bought new covenant itself were really just a revision of religious business as usual). “Silence” in Scripture, particularly regarding worship, was considered to be strictly prohibitive, instead of being an area of complete freedom.
It was no new fight, of course. I understand that the great reformers (and their followers), Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, the former in Germany and the latter in Switzerland, disagreed over the same sorts of “issues.” Candles for Luther, but none for Zwingli. Organs for Luther, but not even congregational singing for Zwingli who found no authorization for it. Those two giants dealt with the “silence” of New Testament Scripture very differently.
It seems to me that the Apostle Paul would tell us that we need to make a decision we believe does not hinder the spread of the gospel or violate the law of love toward our brothers or our neighbors in any way, and proceed to worship, glorifying God. No fussing and no judging. “Your brother may disagree with you, but don’t you doubt for a moment that he will stand justified before God—for the very same reason you will” (Romans 14:4, my paraphrase).
But the far larger point, vastly larger than any externals, is also made incredibly strongly by the apostle. What an amazing chapter is 2 Corinthians (that “2” is pronounced “second,” by the way, and this hint is free for politicians) Corinthians 3 where he again contrasts (as if Romans and Galatians and more were not enough) trusting in a written code and the power of human effort, versus trusting completely in the Spirit and God’s “work” accomplished completely through Christ. Even as the apostle warns us, “the letter of the law kills,” he exults, “but the Spirit gives life.”
This is potent stuff! This is the gospel, the good news. It will bring freedom to our souls. It will light them up with joy! If it encourages us maybe to light a candle or two, or sing a song or two, or play a symphony, or dance in delight, or marvel in wonder, or bow in gratitude, or open our hearts for laughter in the very presence of the God of all joy, well, that’s just the beginning of eternal consequences. (Warning: It has also been known to cause religious folks of the toxic variety to start nailing together crosses for crucifixions.)
I’m not particular about the candles. They’re just one sweet tradition (and, look it up, the whole idea of Advent seems like a very good idea, and a “preparation” my heart seriously needs; funny how often we discover stuff someone else discovered centuries ago). I surely do like them. I just wish I could slow down the time between now (the four candles) and the lighting of His. I want to enjoy every moment. Bask in the anticipation. Enjoy the twinkle of every light.
But I am serious about “the joy” and very particular indeed about our not missing this fact: When we celebrate Christ’s birth, the whole point is that God did it. We didn’t. And we never could. Salvation didn’t come from us. Never could. Never would. Never will.
We celebrate Christ’s coming at Bethlehem. Because. God. Did. It.
Wonder of wonders! The light has come! And the darkness will never overcome it.