Don’t let the flame go out

My home in Texas, filled this week with both a Christmas tree and a Hanukkah menorah, seems to have more light at this time of year.  My home in Texas, filled this week with six children (including the college students home on break), seems to have more light at this time of year.

In a matter of days, as Christmas passes and Hanukkah comes to an end, what happens to the light?  As followers of Jesus remove the Christmas lights from their front yards and Jews around the world pack away their hanukkiahs, what happens to the light?  When, or if, school resumes in January, what happens to the light?

2020 has been a dark and painful year around the world.  People everywhere, including America and Israel, have suffered through the Coronavirus pandemic.  America and Israel both held dramatic national elections in 2020.  Both nations face leadership struggles and mistrust and mud-slinging and never-ending accusations.  Both nations need leaders who care more about benefitting their constituents and solving problems and less about defaming their opponents.  In the middle of all the political maneuvering and virus dread, what happens to the light?

As West Point graduates, my classmates and I remember vividly what cadets called those cold, dark days right after Christmas leave ended… the Gloom Period.  Maybe your family is struggling.  Maybe your health is suffering.  Maybe your marriage needs help.  Maybe the never-ending lockdowns have brought your soul down.  In the midst of your own personal gloom period known as the COVID crisis, what happens to the light?

Believers struggling to find their way through the darkness of political campaigns and vaccine development and economic recovery plans might find hope in Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?”

About 2,700 years ago, Jews received a special assignment from God that involved divine light and all the other people groups.  In Isaiah 49:6, the Lord said, “It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a light for the nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

For Christians who find their salvation in the person of Jesus, the one whose birth is celebrated at this time of year, we remember reading John 8:12.  In that verse, Jesus Christ proclaimed, “I am the light of the world.”

In both testaments of the Bible, we see a connection between light and salvation.  Students of scripture notice that God understands most of all our need for spiritual light in an ever-darkening world.  As darkness overcomes schools and businesses and places of worship, what happens to the light?

We have sadly come a long way from the very beginning, when light was on God’s mind.  Do you recall that the first recorded words of Creator God mentioned light?  In Genesis 1:1, God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.  Or, if you prefer the Hebrew, יְהִ֣י אֹ֑ור וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור.  Why is it so hard to locate that spiritual light in today’s world?

Instead of annually searching for light and locating light and celebrating light and sharing light during the holidays and then letting all that light fade away, maybe we can, with God’s help, keep the flame from going out.

Maimonides wrote so long ago, “The commandment to light the Hanukkah lamp is an exceedingly precious one, and one should be particularly careful to fulfill it, in order to make known the miracle, and to offer additional praise and thanksgiving to God for the wonders which He had wrought for us.”  Rambam emphasized the importance of lighting the flames, but what about preserving the flames we already have?

Neither Jews nor Christians should wait until late in 2021 to search for the light.  Next year, when Hanukkah begins on November 28 and Christmas arrives on December 25, will we have any light left from this holiday season?  Or, will the darkness of winter and virus and politics succeed in extinguishing the light?

As a Jew or a Christian, what will you do to keep the light on during 2021?  How can you guide someone else struggling in the darkness?  Maybe we all need this reminder from Mary Anne Radmacher… “As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.”


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