Monday, December 21, 2015

The Season of Lights

This time of year is commonly – and appropriately – known as “the season of lights.” Everywhere we look, from the malls to city streets to many of our homes, holiday lights shine brightly. Many neighborhoods have annual contests to determine whose display is prettiest, most elaborate, or even the most gaudy. It’s a time of year when tacky is considered classy by some.

With daylight shorter, the festive illumination serves to brighten the evening mood. Who needs streetlights when your neighbor’s house and yard are covered by 50,000 twinkling lights?

History buffs that study such things tell us the tradition of lighted Christmas trees dates back to 18th century Germany, although those lights consisted of flame-topped candles. I suppose local fire departments gave training courses on how to light the tree without burning down the house. Can you imagine what the Consumer Product Safety Commission would do today about lighting real Christmas trees with real candles? No doubt it would spark an inferno of controversy.

When it comes to Christmas lights, the folks at
Walt DisneyWorld's Hollywood Studios
have it figured out.
It’s said Edward H. Johnson, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison, displayed the first electrically lit Christmas tree in 1882 on Fifth Avenue in New York City. I can’t confirm this, but I understand Mr. Johnson was a bit hard of hearing, so when someone complimented him on the 80 red, white and blue incandescent light bulbs powered by electricity, he replied, “Watt?”

Seriously, the association between light and Christmas began many centuries before that. The Scriptures prophesied as such. Isaiah 9:2 declares, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Bible scholars agree this is one of hundreds of Old Testament prophecies pointing to the coming Messiah, predictions fulfilled by the birth of Jesus Christ.

That is hardly the only reference to light in the Old Testament. Psalm 119:105 states, “Your word is lamp to my feet, a light to my path.” This passage refers to the Bible itself, but according to the New Testament, it also can be applied to Christ. The Gospel of John starts by announcing, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1-2, 14).

Jesus certainly didn’t rebuff references to Himself as “light.” In fact, He used the term for Himself repeatedly, declaring, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5). He stated, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).

As we survey the state of our present world, which many of us fear is falling under the shroud of gathering gloom – terrorism, senseless violence, unprecedented global disasters, and hostility replacing civil discourse – we can draw comfort and peace from the assurance that no one who believes in Christ should stay in darkness.

This light metaphor doesn’t stop with Jesus alone. While followers of Christ don’t generate light on our own, we’re charged to reflect His light to the world around us. "No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light (Luke 11:33).

And displaying the light of Christ isn’t just a matter of words. It’s a lifestyle, a call to reflect His light through our everyday lives. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18). If the growing darkness is to be dispelled, our behavior must serve as one of the sources of illumination.

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:14-15).

No one likes living in the dark, except perhaps those up to no good who pursue their illicit schemes under the cover of darkness. At this time of year, when beautiful, colorful lights sparkle happily around us celebrating the advent of Christmas, let’s remember the light we’ve received from Jesus Christ isn’t to be hoarded. It’s to be shared, shining truth and hope and joy and love in even the darkest of shadows.

The refrain from the old children’s song says, “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Even a little light, shining in a very dark room, can cast a surprising amount of illumination. So in these coming days, could it be that God is calling us – without complaining or arguing – to boldly display His light “so that those who come in may see the light”?

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