We could not get the Christ Candle lit.
It was Christmas Eve and the start of the 4:30 p.m. Children’s Christmas Eve service. Fellowship Hall was shoe-horn-full with families and children of all shapes and sizes. It was loud, it was wild, and it was wonderful.
I had invited a young couple who were new to the church to light the Advent and Christ Candles. I watched as the husband carefully ignited the three purple candles and one pink, all representing the four Sundays of Advent. The center white candle was the last to be lit on Christmas Eve, but the wick didn’t take. The young man kept trying and finally gave up. I thought to myself that I would be able to do what he couldn’t.
So, during the first carol, I walked up to the wreath and looked down. The wick of the Christ Candle was just a fraction of an inch above the wax. Maybe the wax just needed to be melted down a bit. So I stood there, trying to melt the wax like you’d melt the ice on your front steps. That didn’t work either and the first carol was over as we moved deeper into the worship service.
You could have Christmas Eve without a Christ Candle, I suppose, but it didn’t seem right to me. I gave up trying to light that candle. I left Fellowship Hall and walked to the atrium between the sanctuary and Education Building. I knew there was a large white candle there. I lit that candle and set it on the floor near the lectern but not close enough to light the cloth vestment hanging from the front. I was smart enough to realize that a major fire was not the solution to a dark Christ Candle. The service concluded with everyone holding a candle in the dark and all the candles were first fired by the replacement Christ Candle.
An unlit Christ Candle is for me an apt picture of December 2017. It was the saddest December of my life. In the course of the 31 days of the twelfth month of this past year I attended one service for a TMPC member whose mother was hit by a car and killed on her birthday. I conducted a funeral for close friends of mine from my previous church whose son died from a drug overdose at the age of 23. On New Year’s Eve I walked into the home of a dear friend because her oldest nephew had died suddenly that afternoon. I include in my December encounters with friends who are suffering with numerous medical issues or unanticipated surgeries. I know of families and individuals who are breaking into pieces and all of it adds up the worst December ever.
At the Children’s Service, after all the candles were lit and the lights extinguished, after I prayed the Christmas prayer and we sang “Silent Night, Holy Night” I told the congregation the story of the unlit Christ Candle. It challenges of lighting the candle reminded me of the challenges that so many have igniting their Christian faith. For it seems like heart-break, disappointment, addiction, divorce, death all conspire to make it hard to get a flame going. All my efforts in getting a candle going made me think of the work that Bailey and I do as pastors. We try to help light the fire in your lives. It’s not always the easiest job.
The brothers at Holy Cross Monastery have a wonderful saying: Love must act as a fire must burn. My candle-lighting efforts are feeble at best. But Jesus, who called Himself the Light of World, burns brightly in and through the darkness and sadness of December. You just can’t put out that Light even if it takes a while to get burning.