Throughout history candles have been lit to mark a death or a birth, for solace or for thanksgiving. A candle has the power to change a story.
The physical light a single candle gives doesn’t meet the visual needs of those of us accustomed to backlit screens and LED lights. Yet that gentle light has the power to open doors and break into impenetrable darkness.
You may have noticed the many colourful outdoor lights that began to appear at the end of October. In truth we are pandemic worn and ache for brightness, laughter and worry free gathering. This has intensified as the days have grown shorter. We crave light and the feeling of hope it brings. The expectations of Christmas this year are immense.
Christmas at its essence is a puzzle. The Christ child was both human and Divine. How do we relate to this theological conundrum? The idea of mystery is uncomfortable for those of us shaped by a culture that expects clear answers. However, there are hints. One is found at the beginning of John’s gospel. John’s words take us back to the creation story and places Christ as co-creator with God even before time began. No wonder there was a star and a multitude of angels! John writes not of the birth narrative but creation. He emphasizes the coming of the Light “which shines in darkness and darkness does not overcome it.”
It is as though the creator became fully immersed in creation. The Christ-child, the co-creator of all existence, came to lift us out of the mire of human darkness into the light of freedom, hope and joy. This holy light was not so much about a birth as a re-awakening of the cosmos.
The cosmic majesty and mystery can seem distant. We must not neglect the intimacy of Christmas. The Christ child embodied the weaving together of the human and the divine. A vulnerable human infant was home to the divine Creator.
The reality is that the divine is woven into our DNA. We are not separate from the stable nativity nor the creation myths. They are our story.
Is it easier to experience Christmas through the story of an infant? Can it be found in traditions where lit candles and people singing Silent Night discover a different quiet?
I am reminded of a Christmas Eve when our children were young. It was a crisp, clear evening as we drove away from church. We had sung carols, remembered and celebrated Christmas. It was late and we were tired. The tires crunched on frost covered streets as we drove home. The stars hung so low in the sky it was as if we could touch them. Familiar sounds were muffled and in the different quiet there was a hint of something like music. It would ebb and flow as we travelled. It was as if we occupied a space somewhere between the past and the future.
And then we were home. Our youngest, rubbing his eyes, got out of the car, stopped, looked up at the sky and asked,” was that the angels singing?” We stood for the longest time looking skyward; feeling inexplicably blessed.
A candle offers one way into mystery and story. The One who imagined the cosmos into being can be found lying in a manger, in the lighting of a candle and in the attentive listening of a child.
May your Christmas be filled with light, mystery and joyful surprises.
The Reverend Canon Nancy Ford, Deacon, is the Anglican Director of Deacons for the Diocese of British Columbia and Deacon to the City of Victoria out of Christ Church Cathedral.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE: https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, December 18th 2021