I was reading a sermon by Timothy Cargal, (yes, pastors listen to and read
other pastor’s sermons, how else would we be spiritually fed?) and in it he
talks rather humorously about how, “One of the great cultural traditions of
modern American Christmas observances is the use of lights. Everything that
doesn’t move is decorated with lights. Christmas trees are recognizable by
their lights, and indeed as more and more types of trees are used as Christmas
trees, the more it is the presence of the lights that identifies them as such.
Lights are put around lampposts. We hang lights from the eaves and awnings of
our homes, and around windows and doorframes. Lighted fixtures and images are
arrayed in front yards, and those that are not self-lighted are bathed in
spotlights. Without a moment’s embarrassment at the brazen self-interest,
electrical power companies promote contests for the best and most elaborate
seasonal displays.” He then goes on to talk about the psychological reasons
that we do this during the darkest time of year, when the days are short and
the nights are long.
I remember a powerful story told by Roger Robbenolt about his father who
feared the darkness in the years before electric lights. It was a symptom of
During the gloom of December, as long as the kerosene lamps were ablaze he
could endure the long nights. But if there was no kerosene his father would become
violent and angry from his fear. The year when Roger was nine particularly
stands out in his memory. 37 inches of snow had fallen in three weeks, and more
was coming. They hadn’t been able to get into town to buy oil or candles and on
Christmas Eve – both ran out. Roger’s mother called a mile distant neighbor on
the phone, pleading for any extra kerosene they might have.
On those blizzard shrouded days there was little to do. One pastime was
rubbernecking (some of you will know what that is, it is when there are 18
families on a party telephone line, each with its own distinguishable ring.
Well, even if the call wasn’t for you, you could very carefully lift the phone,
cover the mouthpiece and listen in on your neighbor’s conversation.) The
neighbor said she didn’t have any extra oil, and the phone call ended.
What happened a while later was a miracle due to people being nosy. As
Roger stood by the window, he saw lights like fireflies in the distance,
lanterns, seventeen lanterns growing larger as the bearers came nearer. Roger’s
father saw the light and cried out, “The lights – look at the lights.”
Roger says, “They came on that Christmas Eve, the light bearers. But they
bore more than light. Though jobs were scarce and gardens had dried up and the
snow was too deep to care for trap lines, everybody brought something to share.
Tilllie Mauldin had come up with the makings of mincemeat pie. Bill Cooley had
some ground venison. Gyp Matthews brought corn to pop. Thirty people or more
crowded into the tiny living room and kitchen . . . ”
“We sang and laughed and shared far into the night. Ted rolled in our
kerosene barrel, and everyone poured half a lantern-full into it. We would not
be without light.”
You see there is more to Christmas and lights than just psychology. It is
about hope, deepest hope, that reaches beyond our mind into the depths of our
souls. Light is spiritual. Isaiah captures it in his writing.
The people walking in darkness have
seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
It isn’t until after he has told us about light that he says:
A child is born to us, a son is given
He will be named Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
In the darkest night, Isaiah says, there will be light, spiritual hope, and
that hope comes in the form of a child, the Christ.
It isn’t just Isaiah, that realizes that light and Christ are connected. You
also hear it in our Christmas carols, this connection between light and the
newborn child and the hope he brings into a dark world.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing says, “Hail! the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, risen with
healing in His wings.”
Do you hear what I hear says, “Pray for peace, people everywhere! listen to
what I say The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night: He will bring us
goodness and light, He will bring us goodness and light.”
“O Little Town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and
dreamless sleep The silent stars go by; Yet in thy dark streets shineth The
everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee
As humans, we crave hope. We want to see dark times vanish, we want the
shadows of evil lifted, we want the lonely midnight hours of the soul to be
lightened by the company of angels. We
want to be standing out in the fields by night and see the glory of the Lord
shining upon us. We crave hope. And the lights that cover our houses, the lights
that cover our trees, the lights that drape our sanctuary represent prayers
from the depths of our spirit, prayers to God to bring light, hope-filled
light, into our world.
Imagine as you drive home that each light on the houses and trees you pass is
a prayer, and some of us really like to pray. But still it is a voice crying
out. The owners of the homes, the people putting out the lights may not realize
it, they may not be aware that they are praying. But deep in their spirits it
is there. The desire for the light to overcome the darkness.
As we light the candles tonight, we are joining those perhaps unknown and
unwitting prayers. But we are doing so consciously.
We are aware of the spiritual quest of humanity. We speak quite openly
about our hope that comes from this child of God born many years ago. We
believe that what the angels sang is possible, that there can be peace on
earth, and goodwill among all people, and that this child is part of making
that happen. And we lift our lights to heaven praying that it would be so.
Each candle is a prayer. We are bearers of the lanterns of hope, messengers
of the everlasting light, who come to bear homage to the child in the manger,
who is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace.
Tales of Gletha the Goatlady, Roger Robbenolt (Ave Maria Press, 1993)