As we step across the threshold into 2021, I’m about to share a carefully researched and amazingly insightful observation that’s just too powerful and revealing to keep to myself. Ready? Take a deep breath, because here it comes . . . These are dark times.
OK, so I overplayed that a little. Obviously, we’re all too well aware of the dreadful state of things in most of the country right now. The news that foreboding possibilities are lurking in the days ahead isn’t news at all. What we may not know is whether there’s anything we can do about it. Is there any personal contribution we could make that could have any real impact against the moral and ethical darkness surrounding us? Actually, there is. There’s a simple and powerful strategy to confront and overcome it, and I saw it graphically demonstrated in a church Christmas program that my wife and I attended years ago.
Banished to the Balcony ~ Over the years, we had witnessed a lot of Christmas programs, but the program that night included something we hadn’t seen before. Our arrival wasn’t really “late”, but we were late enough to be relegated to the balcony, which was disappointing. Balconies, to me, were contrivances designed to provide more than additional seating. They were great for reducing distractions created by squirmy, talkative, phone-addicted teenagers and to encourage repentance among chronologically-challenged latecomers who were forced to sit up there.
Our balcony conformed to the circular design of the auditorium, which helped ensure that there weren’t any “bad” seats. That alleviated some of my disappointment, and my attitude improved even more when we were able to grab a couple of seats on the front row. That gave us a bird’s eye view of the entire auditorium below as we settled in for the service.
The blend of contemporary and traditional Christmas music and a dramatic offering or two were familiar and uplifting, but something new, at least for us, was added at the close. There would be a candle lighting ritual accompanied by the singing of one last carol. It seemed like an appropriate and refreshing way to wrap up the evening. After that, we’d make our way home as usual, grab one last tasty Christmas snack, and then head off to bed to see if any “visions of sugar plums” would show up to dance in my head. I certainly didn’t anticipate that anything spiritually“enlightening” would unfold as each of us stood to our feet and reached for our candles.
An Unexpected Revelation ~ My preconceived notion began to change as I stood at the balcony rail looking down at all the people on the main floor. The lights slowly dimmed until the entire room went totally dark. The little flame that lit the first candle stood out in such contrast to the blackness that it was almost stunning. Then, the person with that candle reached out and lit another person’s, and he or she in turn lit another . . . and that person turned and lit yet another, and so on. I stood there spellbound as we sang together and the process moved on. Soon, the room began to be bathed in a soft and compelling glow as hundreds of little flames joined one another, each sharing whatever light they had. I saw something clearer in the dim light of those candles than I had ever seen on a bright sunlit day. Totally unexpected tears of gratitude filled my eyes as the awareness of the power in what we were seeing overwhelmed me. It was a demonstration of God’s simple and profoundly effective strategy for repelling darkness.
I’d like to share a few noteworthy reflections that were on display that night:
- Candles weren’t distributed by racial, cultural, ethnic, or other demographic categories. The candles were all identical, and everyone had one. Old people, young people, strong people, weak people, and even children had a candle. The candles didn’t care about the skin color on the hands that held them or about the native tongue of their holders. If the hand shook a little with age as its flame was lit, the light was just as bright and candles didn’t mind.
- No extra benefits were offered if the one holding the candle could write a large check to the church, and nothing was taken away from those who may have needed a gift from the benevolent fund to buy groceries. The candles didn’t care about any of that, and none of those issues increased or diminished the brightness of anyone’s flame.
- Once lit, every candle was then fully equipped to light the candle of the next person. All that was needed was direct contact, a simple touch. Lighting another person’s candle didn’t involve any choreographed routines, ritualistic motions, or verbal recitations and didn’t require the presence of an authorized official to give oversight and grant approval.
- Passing the flame was not a complex procedure, but direct contact was mandatory. No verbal command, no emotional display, and no written edict demanding a flame to erupt could ever make it happen. Success required a willing, purposeful physical touch. The flame couldn’t be sent by text, email, or social messaging . . . and “burning candle gift cards” were not a possibility.
- There were hundreds of candles involved, but none shined any brighter than the others. The people holding them were different, but the light they provided was the same. The child’s flame burned just as brightly as the grandfather’s, and the talented singer’s candle looked no different than the auto mechanic’s. The power to transform the room was in the candle, not in the hand that held it.
- The process required that every candle in the room pass some of the heat and light of its flame to another candle. But, remarkably, the process of giving what it had to one that didn’t have it did not diminish it at all. It had just as much energy and radiance as it had before the process began. Beyond that, throughout the entire process of sharing itself with others, not one candle ever ceased to do what it was originally created to do.
As that auditorium gradually filled with light, something else was indelibly clear. The darkness didn’t get a vote. Those tiny flames of light pushed it away one at a time with irresistible force, and the darkness had no option but to leave. The combined power of all that darkness that had owned the room a little while ago couldn’t extinguish a single candle!
The Strategy Revealed ~ The vision and truth being demonstrated was overwhelming, and I almost shouted out loud, “This is it! This is what God wants, and this is how it works!” Defeating the darkness isn’t about talented performers doing pulpit theatrics. It isn’t about complex ecclesiastical systems run by specially trained professionals. The power, the flame, if you will, to push back against the darkness that owns so much of our culture today is in Jesus Christ alone, and His strategy for transforming the world is as simple as what took place in the auditorium that night.
One final reflection comes to mind. As the light spread through the room below me that had been so dark and foreboding just moments earlier, I noticed something. I could now see hundreds of faces in the candlelight. They didn’t look anxious or fearful. They all seemed somehow brighter and more hopeful than before, and their smiles added to the warm glow filling the room. The scene before us went deeper than our visual apparatus. What we did with those little candles and the strategy that they demonstrated sparked a spirit of praise, ignited joy in our hearts, and illuminated hope for our future.
A Plan for 2021 ~ These are, indeed, dark times, but God’s Spirit, the “flame” of new life, if you will, indwells every one of His followers and there is no distinction. The light and energy God has put in us can transform the world if we apply the strategy He designed.
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6 NKJV)
Our individual flame may seem small and ineffective by itself, but two things are worth remembering. We may not think our light is very strong, but it will be enough to light every cold, dark, hopeless candle we’re willing to touch with it. We might not think our light shines very brightly, but the combined power of all the darkness in hell cannot put it out. So, as for the plan for the year ahead … Let’s put our candles where God directs and watch darkness turn to Light in 2021.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “Totally unexpected tears of gratitude filled my eyes as the awareness of the power in what we were seeing overwhelmed me. It was a demonstration of God’s simple and profoundly effective strategy for repelling darkness.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “These are, indeed, dark times, but God’s Spirit, the “flame” of new life, if you will, indwells every one of His followers. There is no distinction. The light and energy God has put in us can transform the world if we apply the strategy He designed.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The power, the flame of His Spirit, if you will, to push back against the darkness that owns so much of our culture today is in Jesus Christ alone, and His strategy for transforming the world is as simple as what took place in the auditorium that night.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “We may not think our light is very strong, but it will be enough to light every cold, dark, hopeless candle we’re willing to touch with it. The combined power of all the darkness in hell cannot put it out.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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© 2021 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.