We’ve had unseasonably warm weather here in the last few days, and we were treated to a Christmas Day in which we could actually sit outside in shirts and shorts, listening to our neighbors sing Christmas carols through the open windows of their house with their growing brood of grandchildren. It was quite a relief, actually.
Already the trashcans are at the curb, overflowing with boxes and paper and packing material. Already our puppies have gotten a furtive, haunted look as I joyfully pop the bubble wrap—a compulsion of mine since I was a kid that to them must sound like hailstones striking a tin roof. Already many of our neighbors are taking down the Christmas decorations—and part of me can’t blame them. When you’ve been hearing Christmas songs crooned from every speaker in every public space since the day after Labor Day, I can imagine it can be freeing to shut the door on our annual seemingly interminable season of consumption.
Yet, we liturgical types delight who insist on keeping Advent and Christmas as separate seasons have only begun to celebrate. Hey! We insist. Today is only the second day of Christmas, as the old carol commemorates. We’re only up to the “two turtle doves” part—we’ve got quite a way to go to get to the ladies dancing and lords a-leaping, much less those drummers drumming. Yet, thanks to the warm weather, we got to listen to the “calling birds” already this afternoon, as the juncos, song sparrows, and titmice sang out their gratitude for the full bird feeders scattered around our yards.
Since we observed the Winter Solstice five days ago, the other good news is that the days are getting longer, even if only in tiny increments. Even more wonderful, our Jewish kindred are also celebrating light heading into the fourth night of Hanukkah. Yes, for those of us who crave the sun, any lengthening can feel like a weight off our shoulders. That’s why I am always grateful that the revised common lectionary readings for this Sunday will include the beautiful prologue to John’s gospel, with its six-fold repetition of the word “light.”
But of course, this need to embrace light is so much more than a metaphor or a meteorological event, or even a physiological need. It’s a spiritual exercise that is all part of that “having life, and having it more abundantly” promise embedded in the life of faith. Even in my sunshine-deprived heart, the promise that “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” never fails to lift my soul, even when the darkness threatening so much of our common life together seems to gather adherents.
The beautiful testimony to the light we hear described in the opening verses of John’s gospel is echoed in the first chapter of the First Letter of John, itself paraphrased beautifully in one of my favorite hymns in our 1982 Hymnal, “I Want to Walk As a Child of the Light,” which begins
I want to walk as a child of the light.
I want to follow Jesus.
God sent the stars to give light to the world.
The star of my life is Jesus.
In Him there is no darkness at all.
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
As we struggle to make our way in this world, may we remember that, if we are to remain true to our calling as Christians, we are called to testify to the light of God —to testify to it, to amplify it, to embody it, to nurture it, to be guided by it—to sing that light out as gratefully and whole-heartedly as the songbirds. We must never give in to the darkness in the world, or make our peace with a darkness that threatens to overwhelm our neighbors, much less take delight in it, as too many talking heads around us seem to do.
As we celebrate these twelve days of Christmas, of stretching with hope toward the light of Epiphany, may we be ever alive to the need to seek the light of Christ in our lives. May we be determined to testify to that light with joy and gratitude, to bear that light within us not just for our own sakes, but for the repair of the world in the coming new year.
Most Merciful God, bend near,
and place the balm of your spirit
upon this turbulent world we have made.
Let us hear again your call to live
as children of light, justice, healing, and peace.
Lord, let us be children of light.
When we stumble blindly
in the storms of sin and destruction,
let us be filled with and reflect the light of your love.
Let us be for laborers for justice.
Let us seek to not live by the sword,
but by the wisdom and grace of your Word.
Let us be for agents of healing.
Let us seek reconciliation and repentance,
for one wound cannot be healed by another.
Lord, let us be for peace.
Let us unclench the fists of our hearts,
renouncing all that separates us from each other.
Lord, let our cry come to You from our depths
as we pray in your mercy.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.