I’ve always loved Christmas lights. Almost always…
When I was a child, living in a rural home where my daddy worked long hours on his farm and in his general store, we had a humble – but beautiful to me --Christmas tree. My dad liked simple candles, though, for our other lighting. I loved going to a neighboring town and seeing the varied, colorful lights. I also savored traveling to Memphis, at least some Christmases, to see my Irish-American grandmother. The lights of the big city, even when it was not the holiday season, fascinated me, as we drive up old Highway 78 and it turned into neon-lit Lamar Avenue in Memphis. Daddy later told me I called those luminaries “jumping lights.” Even as an adult, more than one lady I squired asked for me to take her for a drive in our more affluent suburbs to see the Christmas lights. I gave out a masculine grunt or two, but in my heart of hearts, I liked the lights.
Then, the lights went out.
I lost both of my parents at a relatively early age, and my Christmas spirit dimmed a bit. Then two years ago, my wife died, just before Thanksgiving, and the lights went out. It was not a perfect marriage, and much of the problem lay with me – but she was a soulmate, a beautiful lady inside as well as on the surface. We talked of retirement together, perhaps in the mountains we both cherished – Smokiest, Ozarks, or the majestic Rockies where we had vacationed together. Grief is sometimes defined as the loss of dreams. And I felt that. I went through depressed, lonely periods and tried to be an agnostic. But God wouldn’t give up on me. As Christ told of leaving the 99 sheep in the fold to find the lost lamb, the Holy Spirit kept sneaking up on me, almost like a stray puppy hoping you’ll acknowledgeand feed him. I don’t like comparing our Lord of Lords to a stray pup; it was I who was the one who was astray, wandering for a tidbit of faith.
I would like to tie this story up like a neat Christmas package by saying I found my way back that yuletide…but that’s not true. Some great theologian said that true Faith is like a candle’s light – the flame may die, but the ember is not extinguished if one has embraced God’s sweet salvation. That winter I had but the tiniest of embers – as I’ve experienced in other times in my life. But, in time, the Gospel of John had avoice shouting in my ear – not the small, still voice God most often uses on us – but a loud Word I needed.John 1:5 has perhaps become my favorite verse: “The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…”
As scripture tells us, even the tiniest light means that there is not total darkness. So it has been with me. The small ember has gradually become a bright burning light, again. I have come to realize, my God has more plans for me…great plans. Through the winters of grief, I am seeing the Light once again. It’s not always easy or clear – I’ll be bluntly honest – but the Light is there. Praise God for the Light.
My daddy was right all along. Amid the darkness, a candle can shine more brightly than any choreographed, fancy lights. God’s candle never goes out, and I am so grateful to be saved by it.