Against Unlit Candles: Lessons Learned in 2020

posted on December 18

Against Unlit Candles: Lessons Learned in 2020

“…by paths they have not known I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.

These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.”

Isaiah 42:16, NRSV

If you have ever visited my office, you already realize that I am an “old soul.” There you will find photos of my dear grandparents, vintage religious memorabilia (including a 1917 Sunday School Lesson Card and the traveling Communion kit of the pastor who performed my wedding), and even some Byzantine artifacts. Old souls like old things. Old souls sometimes find old things at estate sales. Admittedly, it’s one of my hobbies.
This year, most of my estate sale “shopping” was online, as I sifted through auction site photos instead of cardboard boxes. One auction captivated me completely. It was Betty’s auction. I visited her site often during the open period of the sale. I discovered many things about Betty. First of all, she loved pink. Absolutely loved it. She had pink sofas, pink rugs, pink towels, pink dishes. Most memorably, she had pink candles. One of the auction items was an entire plastic hospital basin (you know the kind - it matches the water pitcher) full of pink candles. Unlit pink candles.
I looked at those candles each night of the auction. Eventually I bid on them. Unwittingly, I began a bidding war on a basin of unlit pink candles. They eventually sold to someone else for over $30.00. I wanted to buy them and to light them for her, in her memory. I didn’t win them, but I can’t get her unlit pink candles off my mind.
How does it happen that we finish life with unlit candles? Maybe it was simple - she never needed them to ward off the darkness of a storm. Maybe she never made time to sit still while they burned at the table in their stands. Maybe it was grief. She may have lost someone she loved, and she no longer felt that occasions were special enough for lighting candles alone.  Maybe, like so many of us, she simply ran out of time.
One Advent evening, I opened my laundry room cabinet at home. I found seven unlit candles. Not just tea candles, real candles - jar candles given to me by my husband and kids, candles made by friends, and candles poured by children in my churches.  Might I, too, be at risk of going through life without lighting my candles?
As we draw closer to this COVID Christmas and what has repeatedly been called “a dark winter”, we wrestle more vividly than ever with the sobering truth that we are never promised tomorrow. It’s been true all along, but COVID has given us the opportunity of living life one day at a time, just as Jesus instructed.
There is darkness in our world, just as there was darkness in the world into which Jesus was born. Like today’s infants, Jesus was born into a brutal world of division, hatred and ignorance. We see that ancient bitterness in the eyes of angry people; we hear it echoed in sharp interchanges at every crossroads.
Today is the shortest and therefore “darkest” day of the year. It’s not a Christian festival day, and I doubt you are hosting any parties. But you do have the opportunity to experience light. You might go outside and see the “Star of Bethlehem”, the “great conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn.  I definitely recommend trying. I don’t recommend being too busy to look for it.
But … there is more than one way to appreciate light in the darkness. There may not be a storm to knock your power out, and you may feel you are too righteously (or triflingly) busy to watch for a star or supervise a lit candle. You may be grieving and not particularly feel like candlelight. But I encourage you, and I think Betty would join me in this … take some time to light a candle today, on this longest night of the year. Like us, you probably have at least a few that have never seen a match.
Light a candle to ward off the darkness of this painful year. Light a candle to celebrate that today you are alive and hopefully well. I encourage you to see the very face of Jesus Christ in that light, just as God has promised in the scriptures. Our Savior is coming into the world to bring light and life to all. Let light shine this week in your hearts, and at your tables. God has promised to guide us through paths we have not known, and God will not forsake us. Merry Christmas.
With Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and most of all … the Light of Jesus Christ,
Bev (and Betty)

Rev. Beverly B. Coppley
District Superintendent
& Chief Missional Strategist

Against Unlit Candles Lessons Learned in 2020
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