Last night I attended a Christmas Eve service. It was filled with music and light. The quietness of the wiggling, three-month-old representation of Jesus who sat on his mother’s lap (she, of course, was dressed as Mary) amazed me. The sincerity of young children, who carried candles and explained their meanings—peace, joy and hope—warmed my heart. The poise and clarity of the older children, who memorized or recited Scriptures, impressed me. I enjoyed special songs sung by the choir and other musicians, and I heartily joined in when the congregation was invited to sing Christmas carols.
Everything was beautiful, but the part that meant the most to me was the lighting of the Christmas candles—while the primary lights in the auditorium were gradually turned off. From a single lighted candle at the center of the communion table, ushers lit their candles; then, they walked down the aisles and lit the candle held by the person sitting in the end seat of each row; these people lit the candle held by the person next to them, and so on. Gradually, the entire room was filled with candlelight. This was the pastor’s explanation: The large candle represents Jesus, who is the Light of the world; when we receive him, we receive light; when we tell others about Jesus and they receive him, they receive light and can pass it on.
What does it mean to receive light? It means that we welcome what light shows us. What does light show us? Reality—truth! When light shines through my kitchen window onto the sink below, I see all the stains and spots in my sink that were hidden to my view. Light spreads out and shows me un-scrubbed corners. Jesus-light shows us truth about things and (especially) truth about ourselves; this can be disturbing if we discover that things (including our hearts and behavior) are not as healthy or functional as we thought they were. However, Jesus-light also gives us the wisdom and power to make needed changes. If we want to change, we will welcome his light; if we don’t want to change—if we cherish error and are hiding deceit—we are not likely to welcome Jesus-light.
There were three common responses to Jesus-light when he arrived in Bethlehem. A few people—Mary, Joseph, a few shepherds, three dignitaries from the country which is now Iraq, an old widow living in the temple and an old prophet recognized and welcomed this Light with amazement and joy. Not many other people are mentioned in the Gospel accounts, but among the other ones whom we know were aware of Jesus’ arrival were the Inn-keeper and Herod.
Did the Inn-keeper recognize and welcome Jesus-light? It might appear so—yet was the stable the best that he could offer? Yes, his guest rooms were full, but could he not have offered the Messiah his bedroom? He might have thought that was too risky–fearing about his reputation. Was the stinking, smelly, stable a gift of compassion or merely a token gift to ease his conscience? Was the Inn-Keeper a truly caring person or was he basically indifferent and self-centered? I cannot judge. Only God knew the motives of his heart.
Herod’s response to Jesus’ arrival was much clearer, although not at first. Initially, he covered up his hatred of Jesus-light and lied to the Eastern dignitaries about his intent to kill Jesus. His evil heart was revealed when the dignitaries chose not to inform him of Jesus’ location; so malicious was he that he ordered his soldiers to murder every child two years of age and under who lived in the territory around Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
As I think about the way these people responded to Jesus’ arrival, I see the same three basic responses in today’s world—we welcome his light; we are indifferent toward his light or we hate his light.
Who are the people in today’s world that, like the Eastern dignitaries at the time of his birth, are welcoming Jesus-light? Some of them may be ancestors of these kings from Iraq. An example is the account, a few days before Christmas, in the Washington Post of Kenyan Muslims who protected Christians from being shot in a terrorist attack. [i] These terrorists attacked a busload of people and ordered everyone to get off. The gunmen began shouting demands at the passengers, ordering them to get off the bus and separate into groups — Muslims on one side, everyone else on the other. The Muslims refused to stand apart from the Christians; instead, they surrounded the Christians and protected them.
Who are the people in today’s world that, like the Inn-keeper, might appear to be welcoming Jesus-light but, in fact, could be indifferent and self-centered? I am not naming anyone because I am not qualified to judge the heart condition of anyone—sadly, not even my own. So, Instead, I’m inviting God to give me greater clarity about the condition of my own heart.
Who are the people in today’s world that, like Herod, hate Jesus-light and are viciously attacking and trying to destroy it? Some of them are terrorists; others are not so openly and blatantly attacking Jesus-light, but they are providing the bucks and ammunition for these terrorists. Being a part of a terrorist network is not the only clue that someone may hate Jesus-light. The startling truth is this: all of us are capable of hating that light. Eugene Peterson states it better than I do in these words from The Message:
“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.” (John 3:19-21)
I am determined to keep on welcoming God (Jesus)-light—to living in truth and reality—so that when I’m ushered into the fullness of that light, I will not be afraid. I will, instead, experience unending joy.
What are your thoughts about Jesus-light, and what is your response to it?