The Most Beautiful Night Of The Year
Tonight is Christmas Eve. Our sanctuary is bathed in the light of jewel colors, candles flickering through multi-colored glass holders everywhere. All across the front of the altar rails and on window ledges, the lights shining in the darkness give a person the sense of being inside a lighted Christmas tree, somehow.
This is the most beautiful night of the year at St. Paul's inner-city church.
After all the familiar Scriptures about prophecy, angels, shepherds and the Holy Child of Bethlehem, after singing the beloved carols, we have opportunity to add to the soft glow of light. From the front of the sanctuary, the ushers light their wicks and turn to move slowly down the center aisle. They light the candle held by the person at the end of the pew and continue moving from one pew to the next. That first person in turn provides the flame for the candle of the next person in the row. And so the light spreads across the darkness like a ripple on water moving out from the center.
At this point I love to look around at all the faces illumined by candlelight. Those holding their candle flame close to their face glow the brightest in the dark. Clearly, I am witnessing a perfect illustration of the mission of the church. Each of us receives the Light of the world from another who is sharing the Light he has received. Isn't it amazing how one little flame can light a hundred candles or more? As long as one more wick needs to receive it, the Light is never exhausted. The original flame is not only not diminished, instead it multiplies as it is passed along to others.
Just before the final benediction, our pastor facing us from the altar seems to be stunned speechless for a moment. As he looks out over the congregation, he says softly,
"If only you could see what I see from here. You are all so beautiful!"
This is why we celebrate tonight and always. This is why the Savior Emmanuel, God with us, entered our dimension of time and space. His Advent brought light into a world in the darkness of sin and death. The light shines in darkness, we read and understand, and the darkness does not quench the light. In fact, the darker the darkness, the more brightly the tiniest light shines.
As easily---and carefully---as we pass the flame to the person beside us, we can share the Good News with our neighbor. That's what the Great Commission is all about, so simple even children can do it.
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." ---Isaiah 9:2
"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." ---John 8:12
Copyright 2007---Edy T Johnson
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