This Christmas I was determined to get most of the pepper tree in our front yard covered with lights. Last year, to my chagrin, there were a number of burned out bulbs right in the middle of the trunk. Meanwhile, my neighbor down the street brings the North Pole Experience every year to his front yard – 75 inflated holiday figures dancing around on his lawn with Christmas Trees and elaborate rooftop displays; not to mention an impressive sign announcing a visitation from Santa on two consecutive Saturdays. What I can’t help noticing is that there is not a single burned out light! How does he do it? Last weekend I finally restrung the pepper tree with a new set of LED lights along with my Christmas star hanging over the garage. When I plugged everything in…voilà! All the lights went on! OK, it’s not the North Pole Experience, but I think it looks pretty good.
Today, lights and warm fires on the hearth are merely a lovely holiday decoration. It’s hard to grasp that in Jesus’ day one of the most difficult things to do was to keep the light burning. To lose one’s light was not just an inconvenience; it meant the loss of heat and warmth, the ability to cook food, to protect one’s self from wild animals, and to find one’s way in the night. Firelight brought warmth, security and protection.
For 4000 years, the most common artificial light was the oil lamp. In the Jerusalem Temple, the seven-branched lampstand burned night and day, signifying God’s continuous presence. The Psalmist also speaks of the guiding light of God’s commands, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path"(Psalm 119:105); and John foresees that day when God alone will be the people’s light. Then, “night shall be no more”and there will be “no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever”(Rev. 22:5).
No one knows if an oil lamp or ancient candle burned near the manger on the night our Lord was born. What I do know is that the billions of candle flames and torches and multi-colored lights across the world this Christmas, including the lights of my neighbor’s enthusiastic North Pole display, join in silent witness to the One who lit the stars, the One who lights up our darkened hearts with his grace and truth, the One who calls us to follow him today with unshakeable hope, the One who said, “I am the Light of the world, the one who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the Light of life.” Have a Merry Christmas!