Thursday, January 14, 2016

Where Are We Shining the Light?

One of the things I love about Christmas Eve services is the traditional lighting of the candles in the dimmed sanctuary. As candle after candle is lit, darkness is dispelled and the vast room glows with the flickering flames.

A troubling thought occurred to me, however, at the end of our last Christmas Eve service. Perhaps it was an epiphany. Once the last notes of “Silent Night” had been sung, the pastor dismissed us with the cautionary words: “Please extinguish your candles before you leave.”

Practically speaking, this admonition made perfect sense. We didn’t want to accidentally drip hot wax on the carpet, or on someone else leaving the building. Much worse, we didn’t want to drop our candles and cause a fire, or perhaps have a flame touch someone’s flowing hair. Just the thought of such things causes an involuntary shudder.

But I couldn’t help but wonder: At the end of every other worship service throughout the year, are we doing something similar? Are those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ “extinguishing our candles” before we leave the sanctuary?

During a worship service it’s easy to feel all warm and fuzzy. We’re among like-minded people – or so it seems. We sing hymns and praise songs affirming our faith. We hear sermons reinforcing our beliefs. When we hear the lyrics, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place,” we heartily agree. Our “lights” burn brightly .

But what happens when we leave the sanctuary, return to our cars, and head to our homes or a restaurant to eat? Or the following day, when work and school and household responsibilities vie for our attention? Did we leave our lights in the building we commonly refer to as the “church”? What impact – if any – are we having on the dark influences in the world around us?

During his so-called “sermon on the mount,” Jesus challenged His followers, telling them, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” Then Jesus completed the metaphor: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Are we doing this? Or are we, as we’re instructed on Christmas Eve, extinguishing the flames on our “lights” as we leave each worship service and returning the world outside the stained glass, appearing and acting much like those who never think of darkening a church building’s doors?

This is a humbling, thought. Is the world around us – our workplaces, schools, communities, homes – any brighter because we’re there, serving as “the light of the world”?

The apostle Paul gave a reminder to believers in the church of Ephesus that applies to us as well: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness…everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible” (Ephesians 5:8-13).

This is a question we should ask ourselves: Are we living as children of light? Or are we, outside of the formal worship center, virtually indistinguishable from anyone else? Do we brighten a room when we walk into it, or do we serve only to add to the darkening gloom? And if we realize that we’re not being the light of the world God desires for us to be, what are we going to do about it?

It’s still early in the year, so maybe we should do a bit of soul-searching and try to find some honest answers to these questions. During this year, will we fit the description of Isaiah 58:8, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard”?

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