Dearly Beloved Readers: This week's post comes from December 13, 2012. While I had forgotten about the experience, reading about it brought back not only the memory but also the power of the memory. At the end of the written post is an audio recording that I made early one morning: before dawn, before coffee, no editing, no filter. If you subscribe by email, visit www.darianduckworth.com/musings to listen. May the mystery of the Incarnation fill you with longing and light this Advent and always....
The Light Within
Last Sunday evening, St. Luke United Methodist Church celebrated the Advent season with a Service of Lessons and Carols. Singing alternated with Scripture reading as our youth led in worship. At the conclusion of the service, the acolyte led us outside. In the darkness, we each held a candle and stood in a circle. But there was no light. The wind had blown out the acolyte's one flame. An usher relit it. Again, the wind took the light away before the acolyte could share it. A couple of repeat performances led us to surrender to the wind and return to the sanctuary. It was even darker inside, but we formed a circle along the perimeter. The large crowd was forced to stand closer together in the more confined space. But the light successfully passed from one candle to the next. We sang, "Silent Night," and the last candle was lit as the last verse echoed in our sacred space. The sanctuary was lined with light in a timing so perfect that only one Person could have orchestrated it.
As I stepped forward to offer the benediction, I paused in silence to take in the beauty of that moment. I don't remember the words that I uttered in blessing, but I do remember the thoughts that passed through my mind.
I noticed that the light only remained if we went inside the church. I noticed that the light only passed from one hand to another if we risked getting close to each other. I noticed that the more candles there were, the brighter the space became. I noticed that each of us had enough light in our hands to see the steps in front of our own two feet. But when we came together with all of our lights, a brighter Light enabled us to see much more.
In those few moments between the fading of "Silent Night," and the moving of my own mouth, I saw the reason we need Church. I witnessed why we need community.
I frequently hear people say that they love God -- but not church. There are many understandable reasons for this line of thinking: bad experiences, hurtful encounters, boring sermons, irrelevant activities, a lack of belonging. I will be among the first to raise my hands in agreement that the Church is imperfect. As attendance declines and membership shrinks in many congregations, we see clearly that the Church does need to change.
But maybe we also need to change our attitudes about Church.
I also frequently hear people say that they don't "need" Church, that their relationship with God is "fine like it is." Friends, throughout Scripture, God calls for gatherings: from the Israelites pausing in their wilderness journeys to worship to the home-churches of the early believers. What God desires is for us to be in a relationship with him and with each other that is more than "fine," that is not about "me" but about "us." When we turn away from our needs and towards God's desires, we find that God desires to meet our needs.
The light of Christ is within all of those who choose to be his disciples. The winds of this broken life try to blow out that flame. If we try to protect the light on our own without the worship of God, we can easily slip into a self-centered spirituality. But when we take our candles inside, to a place of worship, we are able to fan the flame of the Spirit within us. Then, we have a light to carry into the darkness outside.
This Advent season, let us quit trying to light our own candles. Come to worship. Come back to church. Come to Christ. For in his bright, infant eyes is the Light of the World.
all good things to each of you,