Tonight I'm away from home. I had intended to go to services with my mother anyway, at a church she found nearby, but it was a long day of travel after a poor night's sleep topped off with about thirty minutes of wandering around in the rainy dark dragging suitcases and a tired four year old trying to find the rental apartment we had arranged. My nerves and temper had frayed, I was snapping unfairly at my family, and I knew that going out to find another strange place in the cold wet dark would just not be wise. So I called my mother and let her know that we'd see her tomorrow but we needed to rest this evening.
I still wanted to go to church though, and it occurred to me that probably some church, somewhere, would have an online service. This is the twenty-first century, after all. So I looked, and sure enough there were quite a few. I ended up dropping in on Resurrection Church (http://www.rezonline.org), a United Methodist Church in Kansas City, as they were kind enough to stream their service. I was able to listen in on their service and watch their candlelighting, which is a very traditional (and much loved, at least by me) part of a Christmas Eve service.
In a candlelight service the lights in the sanctuary are extinguished, to symbolize the darkness we all experience in life. Then a candle is brought in, which is called the Christ candle, the candle that represents G-D's living presence with us. The pastor lights his candle from the Christ candle, and then passes the light to a few others, who then move down the aisles of the sanctuary lighting the candles of the people at the ends of each row of seats who then spread the light to others. In the end, the sanctuary is lit once more with soft candlelight, and we are reminded that we are called to be the light ourselves. The gift we receive is given to be shared.
Watching online, I could see in a different way the light spread across the room, person to person, flame by flame. I was reminded of something my pastor at home said at the beginning of this advent season. He said that it's important that Christians tell the story of Christmas, a story that isn't about buying things and travel and too many cookies at too many parties. Christmas is a story about light in the darkness, about G-D loving us too much to ever give up or turn his back on us.
It's been a tough year, I think. A tough year for everyone, all over the world. It's still tough. It is easy to fall prey to despair. Christmas is a story about hope. It's a story about small flames, spread person to person, in little actions and little stories. Nothing dramatic, nothing splashy, hardly ever anything that makes a home page or a headline or twitter feed. It's a story about people who are called to be light in the world, quietly, patiently. Following the humble example of our Emmanuel, G-D with us, who healed and taught through inclusion, mercy, and suffering. We fail so often, but the light is still there.