Perhaps it seems odd, but I have been thinking a lot about sorrow lately. This December and last brought with them the unexpected deaths of people my husband and I have known and loved. We have now journeyed through two Advents marked by grief.
In the midst of sitting in that grief, I have watched on Sunday mornings as the light on the Advent wreath grows. Many of us name the Advent promises of hope, peace, joy, and love as the candles are lit. Often, we do not recognize that those candles are sometimes ignited in the backdrop of loneliness, uncertainty, grief, and fear.
Indeed, all of those things have always mingled together. They were present at the moment of Christ’s birth, and they are present in our lives still today.
As I have watched the light from the candles around the Advent wreath grow, I have thought about other candles we often hold in sacred spaces. At baptism, we light a candle from the Christ candle and hand it to a sponsor of the newly baptized, proclaiming, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
I have been thinking a lot about the Christ light we each hold, whether literally in our baptismal candles or figuratively, as the gospel takes hold of us and the light of Christ shines in our hearts and lives. I remember the way the light in a room grows when we are all gathered in one space, holding our baptismal candles, our Christ lights, for one another to see.
Indeed, many of us have Christmas memories of singing Silent Night as we pass the flame from one candle to the next. As the light is shared, the sanctuary transforms, and a room full of individual lights becomes a space of communal light.
As I think about the people I love who navigate the deepest seas of grief this season, I also think about the light of Christ and the ways we are called and privileged to bear the Christ light for one another.
It is true that if there were only one light, and it was the light of Christ, it would be enough to break through the deepest night. It is also true that as the number of candles grows, so too does the light. Sometimes it is through the work of God in others, as they bear the light, that we see the light of Christ.
Dear church, this Christmas, I pray two things: first, that you would be surrounded, either in spirit or in the flesh, by a host of people who hold the Christ light for you.
Second, I pray that all of us would bear the light that points to the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” I pray the light we hold would indeed be the light of Christ and that the light would only grow as we each, individually and communally, let our lights so shine before others that they may see and glorify the One who came… and is… and will come again. The One who is the light of the world.
May the light of Christ shine brightly upon you and in you this Christmas season.
Bishop Regina Hassanally
Southeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA