Categories
Commentary Life

The Feast of St. Lucia

Today is the Feast of St. Lucia, a festival of lights celebrated in honor of St. Lucia (or Lucy), a Christian martyr who was killed by the Romans in AD 304.

The name Lucia/Lucy comes from the Latin root lux which means “light.” Celebrated in the darkness of winter, St. Lucia Day reminds us that the true Light of the world has come.

It’s celebrated primarily in Sweden and Norway, but also in Italy (where Lucia was born) and in parts of Finland.

It’s also celebrated in our house.

My wife has quite a bit of Scandinavian heritage and richly embraces it. So much so that I’ve embraced it, too, and now consider myself an honorary Scandinavian. Our children love traditions, especially ones with significant meaning. So St. Lucia Day has become tradition in our home.

St. Lucia’s feast calls for breakfast in bed. With a 1-year old, we start at the table. As we gathered in the darkness with only our dim, white Christmas lights lit, I read this:

In the liturgy of the Church, Saint Lucy has held, and still holds today, the inspiring position of a saint whose very name reminds the faithful at the middle of Advent that her own “light” is only a reflection of the great “Light of the World” which is to start shining at Bethlehem on Christmas Day. It is as if she would say: “I am only a little flame in Advent showing you the way: 

Behold, the Lord will come And all His saints with Him, And on that day There will be a great light. Alleluia.

Lucia is one, small candle in the night pointing to the Great Light, who lights up the entire world. And whoever follows that Light will never walk in darkness again.

Lucia is one, small candle in the night pointing to the Great Light, who lights up the entire world.

Here’s a brief insight I had from the day. I couldn’t help but think that Protestants would benefit from intentionally celebrating more feast days like this. It was fun. It had purpose. And, ultimately, it points us to Jesus.

The problem is that when we Protestants hear anything having to do with a “saint” we don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Dealing with “saints” smacks of all-things-Roman Catholic and idol worship. So we just avoid it altogether and, for the most part, forget those who have come before us. And we are poorer for it. (Remember, of course, that Lucia lived in the third century AD, well before the formation of the Roman Catholic Church as you know it today.)

The Scriptures tell us that celebrating a day or a religious festival is a matter of conscience because they are just a shadow of the things that were to come (see Col. 2:16-17). So no judgment at all if you or I abstain. Period.

A feast like St. Lucia Day, while just a shadow, is still a shadow. And shadows can help us to see and experience the Substance.

But a feast like St. Lucia Day, while just a shadow, is still a shadow. And shadows can help us to see and experience the Substance.

We have a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us–ones we read of in the Scriptures and ones we read of outside the Scriptures. These witnesses don’t point us to themselves, but to Jesus. Otherwise, they aren’t true witnesses.

Maybe you are a Christian, of any tradition, who feels like you aren’t connected to your spiritual heritage. Maybe you are a parent who wants to structure your holidays and year with meaningful traditions. Maybe you just want to learn about those who have gone before you.

Then celebrate a feast day.

I’m not asking you to pray to or worship saints. I’m asking you to remember that you are a part of a great, spiritual family tree that spans generations and geography. Our history is rich. And I hope you to use that history to help you see and worship the One to whom the saints, like Lucia, point.

A Prayer on the Feast of Saint Lucia

Most merciful and gracious God,
who lives in unapproachable light, 
whom no one has seen or can see,
who created light out of the darkness with a simple command:

We come to you in the name of the Lord Jesus, who is the Light of the world.

On this December the 13th, as we share this meal and enjoy each other’s presence in the darkness of early morning (or evening):

We confess to you, Father, that we have loved the darkness of sin more than the light of your life. We have coddled the darkness and made our home in it by loving creation more than you, our Creator. Far too often we are like a blind person who feels their way along a wall in the middle of a bright, sunny afternoon. And we have resisted coming into your light because, like flipping on a switch first thing in the morning, it’s inconvenient and painful. Lord, have mercy on us!

But we are not without hope! You have not left us alone to keep struggling to find our way in the darkness. You sent your own Son, as a human being,  who is the Light of the world, to give light to the eyes of our hearts, so that we might see you and come to you. Whoever follows your Son Jesus will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. 

On this day, the Feast of St. Lucia, we thank you for your servant Lucy, whose name means “light.” In her short life, she pushed back the darkness as she met the needs of the persecuted, poor, hurting, and sick, and confessed your name before the authorities, though it cost her life. 

And yet she was but a small candle in the darkness pointing us to the Great Light of the world.

During this week of the year, when the days are the shortest and darkest, we ask you, Father, to light up our eyes so that we might see and treasure Jesus for who he is. Since we are children of the light and of the day, we do not belong to the darkness. So by your Spirit, may we continually come into the light—because that’s where you are. As you open our eyes and lead us to you, help us, just like you helped Lucy, to shine bright in dark world that desperately needs you. 

And while we wait for you come again, we stand firm in the hope proclaimed by those who have gone before us:

‘The Lord will come,
And all His saints with Him, 
And on that day, 
There will be a great light. 
Alleluia!’

In Jesus’ name, we pray.

Amen. 

Categories
Life

Christmas Lights, Keeping Shining On

Whether you are a Christian or not, in some way or another, you are waiting for some kind of advent–an arrival of something in your life to give you light and hope. Deep down, there is a sense of guilt, shame, inadequacy, and incompleteness in all of us. To solve these problems, we run to money, success, sex, power, control, friendships, acclaim, morality, technology, alcohol, food, exercise or a thousand other things. All of those things are good things. But when they become ultimate things, they will only leave you in the darkness.

The world is dark. We are dark. And nothing in a dark world (including us) can bring us the light we long to see. We need something from the outside.

You get a picture of this longing for light and hope at Christmas in the Coldplay song “Christmas Lights.” It exposes the darkness that lives in us: Got all kinds of poison in, of poison in my blood.

It illustrates the inherent desire in human beings for hope, for light: I am up here holding on to all those chandeliers of hope.

It lays us bare, and reveals that the pursuit of hope in created things—in this case a romantic relationship—will always leave us unsatisfied: And like some drunken Elvis singing, I go singing out of tune, singing how I’ve always loved you, darling, and I always will.

It beckons us look to Christmas for what it is, a day of light and hope: Oh Christmas lights light up the street, light up the fireworks in me, may all your troubles soon be gone, those Christmas lights keep shining on.

God knows we have this need and does not leave us alone in meeting it. But he did not provide a circumstance or event or a system or information. He did not provide something within creation. Instead, he provided a Person who came from the outside, not only to give light, but to be light.

This person is Jesus, and whoever trusts him will not walk in darkness but have the light of life. It’s during this time of Advent we are reminded that we, like ancient Israel, are waiting, too. We wait for Jesus to come back again to finally take all our troubles away. Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights,” whether it knows it or not, is a desperate cry for reconciliation with the Redeemer, who is the Light of Christmas.

Categories
Life Theology

Christmas Lights Keep Shining On

Advent began the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It is the time in the Christian calendar that leads up to Christmas day, and the word “advent” (from the Latin word adventus meaning “arrival” or “coming”) signals a time of anticipation. But it’s not anticipating for gifts or parties or ugly sweaters or egg nog. It’s a season of longing for hope—true hope in the midst of a dark world. Advent is an invitation to face our works of darkness and see the light of Jesus our Redeemer.

Whether you are a Christian or not, whether you observe an advent in some way or another. You long for light. Deep down, you know there is darkness within. You have a sense of shame, inadequacy, and incompleteness. You know this–whether you consciously realize it or admit it—because you run to things for light, for hope. You run to money, success, sex, power, control, friendships, acclaim, morality, technology, alcohol, food, exercise or a thousand other things. All of those things are good things. But when they become ultimate things–things you look to for light and hope, they will only leave you in the darkness.

Do you want hope? Do you want light—this Christmas and beyond? There’s no amount of money or gifts or fame or sex or romance that can take away the darkness in you and all around you. You need something beyond created things. You need something outside of yourself. You need an Advent—an arrival of something. More exactly, you need Someone, who will bring hope beyond your wildest dreams.

God’s answer for this longing—your longing—is his Son, the light-giving Redeemer, Jesus of Nazareth. In the words of Linus, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” God did not provide a circumstance or event or a system or information. He provided a Person who did not simply give light, but is light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

You get a picture of this longing for the hope–the light–of Christmas in the Coldplay song “Christmas Lights.” It’s not a song about Jesus, of course. But it exposes the darkness that lives in us: “Got all kinds of poison in, of poison in my blood.” It illustrates the inherent desire in human beings for hope, for light: “I am up here holding on to all those chandeliers of hope.” It lays us bare, and reveals that the pursuit of hope in anything but Jesus—in this case a romantic relationship—will always leave us unsatisfied: “And like some drunken Elvis singing, I go singing out of tune, singing how I’ve always loved you, darling, and I always will.” It beckons us look to Christmas for what it is, a day of light and hope: “Oh Christmas lights light up the street, light up the fireworks in me, may all your troubles soon be gone, those Christmas lights keep shining on.”

When Jesus came, he came to give hope and light to all who trust in him and turn from trusting in themselves and other things. He will come back again in brilliant light and glory and on that day, all our troubles will be gone. It’s during this time of Advent we are reminded that we, like Israel, live in a time of anticipation. We don’t wait for our Redeemer’s first coming. We wait—long, yearn, groan—for his second coming. Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights” is a longing for something deeper than a reconciled romance with Christmas “lights” as the object of faith. Whether Chris Martin realizes it or would admit it, It’s a desperate cry for reconciliation with the Redeemer, who is the Light of Christmas.

Here’s the music video of Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights.”

Categories
Ministry

Let there be Light! No, seriously, turn on the lights!

Corporate worship is the highlight of the weekly rhythm for Christians. It is the time when we gather together to exalt Jesus and renew our covenant with God. We are to do this in accord with the way he has revealed himself with his word.

Because of this, every aspect of corporate worship should be well-thought out. I think that evangelicals do a pretty good job, for the most part, in thinking through preaching, music, order of service, etc. when it comes to corporate worship. But what about the very non-essential matters? What about, say, how low we dim the lights?

I know what you are thinking: James, seriously? You are talking about light bulbs in church on your blog? Is this important in any sense of the word? This is worse than an argument about carpet patterns!

I would argue, yes, it is important. I would say, no, this is not worse than an argument about carpet. Paul said, “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26). Of course, he was talking about our manner of speech in a church service. But don’t you think that “all things” can extend even to our use of electricity to communicate God’s redemption?

My personal experience can testify to the fact that most of the churches I’ve been to worship in the dark. Not spiritually. I’m talking literally. The light bulbs are nearly turned off. The Bible has nothing to say about halogens and fluorescents, so there’s no reason to be dogmatic here. But Scripture talks at length about the concept of “light,” and I think it can give guidance about how to handle the dimmer switch on a Sunday morning.

God is light and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Jesus came as the radiance of God’s glory (Heb. 1:2); he is the light of the world (John 8:12). God has shone into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of himself in the face of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6). The New Jerusalem, our eternal home, will be a place where there is no darkness (Rev. 21:25). Christians are called to be the light of the world, reflecting their Savior (Matt. 5:14).

Dimming the lights at church may get people “in the mood to worship.” It may get them “to focus on what’s going on up front.” But it sends implicit–though unintentional–messages. First, it sends the message that you can hide and not be seen. If the room is dark, we can slip into and out of the service without anyone noticing us. We may be able to fool others with our spiritual vitality, but God is light and he sees and exposes the hidden parts of our hearts. Light reminds us that our deeds will ultimately be exposed by the piercing light of God’s word (Heb. 4:12-13). No one is hidden and, eventually, your true heart allegiance will be found out. The church is a community of light: vulnerability, honesty, confession, forgiveness, and grace. Our worship environment should reflect this.

Second, a dark room also sends the message that church is a “personal time” with the Lord. You can literally not be noticed if the lights are so dim and you may forget there are people worshiping around you! Corporate worship is not personal time with God; it is a communal gathering with God’s people. When the blinds are open and the lights are turned up, we can (literally) see the people who worship around and with us. Physical light reminds us that if we walk in the light of God’s word, we have fellowship with one another and Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). To walk in darkness means that we are not in the fellowship of the saints. Our worship environment should reflect this.

Finally, a dark room sends the message that church is simply a place to have a cool experience à la a concert. It’s dark, the spotlight is on the guy with the mic, and I can sit snug in my little corner of the sanctuary and not engage with others. It can communicate a “come and see” mentality rather than a “be filled and go” mentality. It communicates that the point is to be entertained, not prepared to be ambassadors of the King throughout the week. Physical light reminds us that we are a commissioned people who are the light of the world, a city set on a hill (Matt. 5:14). We are people of the light who are sent out to light up the dark, dingy places of the world. Our worship environment should reflect this.

Whether sunshine or incandescent, we can use light to remind ourselves and communicate to others very important Christian truths. I’m curious: what are your thoughts on lighting in the church? Does it matter? Why or why not?

Categories
Theology

Let Light Shine!

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)

1. God has given light.
2. Light to see what?
3. Knowledge.
4. What kind of knowledge?
5. Knowledge that reveals God’s glory.
6. Where is that glory seen most fully?
7. In the face of Jesus Christ.