It was a forbidden, daring thing for a small child to hold a live flame.
Each year, a week or so before Christmas, the church of my childhood held a sunset caroling service. At the end of the service, we would be given candles – real candles, even for the kids – and one by one, as we left the warmth of the building, the ushers would light our wicks. We would carry our little lights into the church courtyard, where we would huddle against the cold and sing carols to the dark night sky.
It felt thrilling, like holding a tiny wild bird in my hands. But it was hard to keep that little creature alive. My sister and I always struggled to keep our candles lit in the cold evening breeze, sheltering it with our hands and bodies; but inevitably, a gust of wind would blow it out. But then some nearby adult would offer us a light from their candle, and ours would be reborn. Sometimes, most amazing of all, an adult’s candle would go out, and they would turn to us, to rekindle their flame.
During the half hour or so we spent caroling outdoors, every single candle would blow out, at least once. But at the end of the evening, the courtyard was still filled with candlelight.
Our world has been buffeted by some strong winds lately. Strong enough, at times, to snuff our hope of peace. But here is the good news: we were never meant to carry that light alone.
In this season of the longest night, we will gather again, in our houses of worship, in our homes, in our communities, to share the flame. And again, we will know this to be true: The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not overcome it.
NOTE ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL PEACE LIGHT: Each year, a group of international Scouts travels to the shrine of the nativity in Bethlehem, and lights a lantern from the perpetual flame that burns there. That lantern in turn lights others. The flame is passed from person to person, across oceans and continents, kindling other candles and lamps along the way. And so it becomes a tangible sign, of our common desire for peace.
This year’s flame has now arrived in Deerfield, and will be shared at our Community Service of Lessons and Carols this Sunday, December 9, 2018, at 4pm, at the First Church of Deerfield, MA. Traditionally transported by Scouts, the flame will be presented to our church by a member of local Girl Scout Troop 12926. If you can help harbor the flame until Christmas Eve (oil lamps, enclosed candles, or pilot lights work well), please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to carry the flame to your home or another community, bring a wind-proof lantern to Sunday’s service.