Of all the family Christmas traditions that we celebrate, my wife’s cookie baking is perhaps my favorite. Sadly, no matter how many she bakes, with the crowd of children that we have at our house, they disappear too soon and all that remain are the crumbs. It’s not that I have a reputation for being obsessed with cookies or anything, but if I have an especially strong temptation to be greedy, it’s with my wife’s cookies. “You’re not giving THOSE away, too, are you?”
For God’s strings of lights to be all that they can be in battling the darkness of the world around us, each light must shine for all it’s worth!
Of all the family Christmas traditions that I feel the most ambivalence, it is decorating. I love having the decorations up but tend to feel distress when it comes to unraveling the lights and hanging them wherever our resident interior designer instructs me (a.k.a. my wife again). No matter how carefully I pack the lights, they are never quite as easy to unpack as I expect them to be. Every November’s end I’ll pull out the wire rolls around which I had wound the lights about eleven months prior. Every year, I’ll neatly lay them out (all right, maybe not “neatly”) and then plug them in to see what works and what doesn’t.
And then comes the part that I really would like to bypass. Some (if not most) of the strands don’t come on. This means, of course, that I must embark on the tedious task of trying to find the miscreant light bulb in each light strand. So, with spare bulbs laid out for handy use (which I hope are good bulbs), I start to unplug and replace each bulb one by one in the strand. Invariably, one of three things will happen. The “bad bulb” will either be the very last one in the strand; or there is more than one “bad bulb” in the strand; or one of the “good bulbs” I use to replace a “bad bulb” is in fact also a “bad bulb”.
At some point, usually after what seems like many hours of plugging and unplugging, I usually nearly pass out from vexation and can only be revived by freshly baked Christmas cookies and milk. My children also very graciously stay away from their father who they seem to think has become just a tad cranky. Anyway, I eventually conquer the lights and string them on the tree, along the porch outside, a few miscellaneous places in the house, and maybe even on a dog if she’s asleep.
Then, basking in the glow of success I’ll gather the family together and have them share in the joy of my success. We’ll sit and look at the lights together happily… and then, one of the strands goes dark.
“Um… maybe it’s a flashing strand that I forgot about,” I’ll say hopefully. But I’m never right. A bulb has simply decided to burn out and I have to resume my game of “hide-and-seek” with the “bad bulb”… all the worse now because the lights are on the trees, surrounded by decorations.
I wonder if the Lord gets as frustrated with us as I get with the bulb strands. I mean, after all, He has told us that we are His lights in the world. But we often do not give off the light He wants us to. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV).
And what does that mean? It simply means that our lives are to bring the illumination of God’s truth and love to the darkness of confusion and hate that swirls around us in the world. And what is the implication of our being “lights in the world”? It means that God’s presence in us brings glory to Him and hope to those who have not personally entered into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It further means that should you or I fail to be the light that we are meant to be, that it diminishes the lights of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is why it is said in Romans 15:5-7, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Supernaturally connected as we are by the sacrificial shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross, each of our lights adds to the holy glow of other Believers in Jesus. If one is darkened, lives connected to us are also affected – although, unlike a string of Christmas tree lights, others are not necessarily blacked out since our interrelatedness is more like a “web” then a “strand”.
Still, for God’s strings of lights to be all that they can be in battling the darkness in the world around us, each light must shine for all it’s worth. And what of our “power source”? No strand of light, no matter how good its bulbs are, can shine apart from its being “plugged into” a power source. But don’t worry. If we will abide in Jesus, the power is there. The energy of His holiness and love are infinitely dependable and can give us power to bring illumination to the darkest of circumstances. After all, that’s why He came in the first place: to bring light.
“All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:3-5, 9-13 ESV).