When I mentioned a few days ago to my dear friend and fellow pastor that “we did something different on Christmas Eve,” he gave an audible gasp. Something DIFFERENT on Christmas EVE?! But those of you who’ve been around for awhile remember the last few times we changed it up a bit on this hallowed night — particularly by carrying the light of Christ out onto the front steps as we did just last week.
The premise was straightforward: I’d take the light from the Christ candle, and as Gene and Micah strummed the tune to “Silent Night,” we’d all file outside and share the light with each other around the steps. This would be a sign unto our community: that the Light born into the world is not held behind hallowed walls or shielded from shared view. In the words of John, this Light that enlightens all people has come for the world, full of grace and truth. Our beloved community is called to bear this light into our community, and as a sign for what is to come for us in this new year, we will begin at the Great Beginning.
These ideas never exactly go as planned though, do they? We anticipated cold and breezy, but certainly not the kind of wind that whipped down the 5th Street corridor! It seems there for a bit that everyone’s candle blew out! Several hundred of us huddled together for warmth; candles were passed from person to person; light was shared with laughter and adaptability. “Well, I guess it just means we need each other!,” one hollered out with lilting accent to understanding smiles. Dozens who never quite made it out onto the stairs congregated patiently in the narthex. And all the while, strains of “Silent Night” resounded below us, as steadily we found our shared voice and let it rise.
You can call it wind or Spirit that blew. Either way, it was as holy an experience as I can remember.
That’s the image that will stick with me when I commence my annual tradition of rereading Howard Thurman’s words after Christmas, which says this:
I will light Candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Together in the work of Love,