I will light Candles this Christmas: Candles of joy despite all sadness, Candles of hope where despair keeps watch, Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days, Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens, Candles of love to inspire all my living, Candles that will burn all year long.
by Howard Thurman
Just the other day one of my nephews asked what I hoped for the new year. At least I think he used the word “hope.”
After a brief pause I replied that I hoped the same thing I hope every day: shalom – the Hebrew word for peace.
As I understand it, it’s so much more than the absence of conflict. I hope that of course: the end of war between nations, the end of hostility between neighbors, the end of animosity within families.
I also hope for shalom/peace, in the sense of good health, healing, and wholeness. I hope for communities where all are truly welcomed and treated with respect. I hope for safe places where the gifts of each and every person are held sacred and celebrated. I hope for generosity and good will among all.
I hope that for you.
And I pray that after I light candles, I will have the integrity and courage to act in ways that further shalom/peace in our world.
Christmas has come and gone. Except for Orthodox Christians who are celebrating today. As I get ready to pack up decorations two memories and a poem come to mind.
My favorite new memory: the cheering of a child at the end of every Christmas carol at the family friendly Christmas Eve service we attended. It felt like a celebration of the music. But could easily have been a cheering of the lyrics. Joyful and absolutely appropriate.
Another lingering memory: the Peace Candles at both Urbandale United Church of Christ and Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart Catholic Church (Ankeny). Each had been lit from a flame that began in Bethlehem and was carried to Austria and across Europe, flown to New York City and passed throughout the United States. So many, many prayers for peace.
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flocks, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people, To make music in the heart.
Christmas, for my husband and me, means gathering with other Christians to hear the old, old story of Jesus’ birth and to sing the old familiar Christmas carols.
When serving as a pastor in a church, Christmas Eve worship is a holy celebration I’ve considered skipping (not that that was an option!). Too many expectations. Too many traditions to be kept. So many memories held by the community. So many stories that could be told – some bittersweet, some heart warming, some simply silly or fun. So much love and joy. And always, always, a moment of wonder and of hope (which is why I’d never skip it!).
Candles on Christmas Eve are part of the tradition. The top photo shows the Advent candles – symbolizing hope, peace, joy, and love – with the Christ candle in the center; they were lit at the beginning of the service. The bottom photo shows a much cherished traditional end of Christmas Eve worship: holding a lit candle and singing “Silent Night.”