Already Christmas lights are lit in surrounding communities, poking holes of light into the dark nights of December. There is something comforting about seeing those lights, whether in a solitary house on a rural road or in numerous windows in an urban community. They seem to shine in such a way that they announce that the bleakness of winter is not going to win. The sparkle of light thrust into the darkness somehow deflates the dome of gloom often associated with shorter days and longer nights of winter. They portend that from dark nights there will again emerge days where we will again enjoy the sun-warmed days of spring. One might say the Christmas lights both illuminate our vision and brighten our spirits.
It is interesting how lights became associated with Christmas. Historians tell us ancient peoples often lit lights during winter solstice celebrations as a way of reminding themselves that spring would soon come. Many historians conclude that with the indefinite birth date of Jesus that the early church simply picked a date to commemorate the birth of Christ. Western Christians of the early church decided upon December 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus. When Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity we have a record of the first official Christmas celebration occurring on December 25, 336 A.D.. The date may have been selected with a desire to provide an alternative to the Roman “birthday of the unconquered sun” celebrated on or around the winter solstice. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.), wrote, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of Him who made it.”
The lights of Christmas are an appropriate symbol of Jesus Christ who identified himself as the “light of the world” (John 8:12). In addition to using this description of Himself, He also said how people in a dark world reacted to the light. He said, “The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil” (3:19-20). We have all had the experience of being in a darkened room and suddenly someone throws a switch turning on a bright light. The natural response is to somehow shield our eyes from the brightness flooding the room and overwhelming the darkness. Jesus used light to both define Himself and describe the reaction He would receive because of who He was.
Christmas lights also remind me of who I am to be as a follower of Jesus. Jesus said to those who would follow him, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). Who Jesus is, “the light of the world,” is to be what His followers are to be. In fact, the Apostle John said firmly, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”(1 John 1:5-6). Life must match lip.
The very life that Jesus lived on planet earth supported the claims of who He said He was. Could this be true of those today describing themselves as “Christian?” The first time followers of Jesus were called Christians was by the people of Antioch (Acts 11:26). When followers of Christ came to this city, Brian Kammerzelt writes they, “Began breaking down the dividing barriers in a way that upset the society’s existing categories. People from all parts of the city -Jews and Gentiles alike - were suddenly coming together. This group of people was redefining community in a radical and unprecedented way, so much so, that a new word was needed to categorize what in the world was happening.” They coined a new term to describe them, Christian – “little Christs” – the ending “-ian” means “belonging to the party of,” essentially “the Jesus’ party.” It wasn’t a derisive term; it was a reflective term. As “lights” in that city they reflected the Jesus they said they followed. When they did, the barriers between people were dissolved and the culture around them noticed. It is hard to overlook light in a dark place.
Our world right now seems to be in a dark place. It needs people who are so committed to reflecting the character of Jesus that they are not defined as being a part of a national political party but as “belonging to the party of Jesus.” Reflect love not hatred, peace not turmoil, hope not despair, joy not anger, control not chaos, compassion not indifference, sacrifice not selfishness, and benevolence not bickering. Let’s see Christmas lights as a reminder of whose birth we celebrate and reflect on how we are to live. Enjoy the Christmas lights as you acknowledge Jesus’ birth!