St. Francis of Assisi once said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of one candle.”
On Christmas Eve each year, year after year, we end our service by holding up candles in a darkened sanctuary and singing together “Silent Night.” What’s more, the light from all of our candles originates from the single Christ Candle at the center of our Advent Wreath, spreading across the entire sanctuary as we pass it from one candle to another until the entire sanctuary is bathed in warm candlelight. Thus a single flame grows and grows until it banishes the darkness of our great hall with light and song.
Last year, as we carried out this tradition as we had done countless times before, none of us would have ever imagined that this year we all lit our candles in our homes. A year ago, we would have never imagined that we would still be without a settled minister, that we would have to disband our choir for a year, that our Vacation Bible School and Pageant would have to be 100% virtual, and that we would have to forgo beloved traditions like the pumpkin patch, trunk-or-treat, potlucks, and caroling.
Even so, amid all this darkness, we would have never dreamed that we would now be strategically allocating a $100,000 surplus. We never would have guessed that our church had such creative talents in music, video editing, music mixing, graphic design, movie-making, and liturgy. We would have never imagined that seeing the pageant in a new way through zoom would touch our hearts like never before. We would have never enjoyed a committee meeting in our pajamas, or gotten to meet Rev. Nikki’s cats.
Last Sunday we sang the Christmas Carol, “Who Would Think That What Was Needed,” which has this line in it: “God surprises Earth with Heaven coming here on Christmas Day.” Christmas is all about surprises. Jesus was quite the surprise savior. And God has certainly surprised us by smashing all our Christmas idols this year. All that is left seems to be the manger.
It’s been a dark and difficult year. But for me, however, this church family has been, as St. Francis describes, like a single candle: all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish our light.
Darkness cannot steal our hope.
It cannot disturb our peace.
It cannot rob our joy.
It cannot squelch our love.
And it certainly cannot undo what was done in Bethlehem, when God became the Christ Child and lived among us.
This is the light: Emmanuel, meaning “God is with you.”