An Advent Meditation: Lights

December 12, 2011

The one job I do not look forward to in December is stringing the lights on the fresh Christmas tree. I complained once too often a few years ago about wires showing, and the task became mine in perpetuity as a result. There are several aspects of the process that bring discomfort: the tree stays outside until the lights are on, for ease of access all the way around the tree, so it’s a cold job (if you can call 45° cold, which we do here in sunny California). One must hold one’s arms high for what seems an interminable amount of time. Then there’s the sap and the sharp needles to sting the effort. And last but not least, despite pre-testing, sometimes a string does not light when the tree is plugged into the electrical socket.

But I did it, and the tree is now in our family room glowing and beckoning us more deeply into the season.

The thought struck me that the normal Presbyterian life is lot like stringing tree lights. Being a light in the world, and—as we were discussing last week—a light within our own PCUSA family, is not always easy or fun. To be a light can be costly, inconvenient, tedious, or even painful. It can also be frustrating, if one goes to a lot of work only to end up with lights that do not work.

The tree lights we use have this irritating feature: if one bulb is not working properly, the whole string goes out. The biblical equivalent of this reality is mentioned by Paul at 1 Cor 12:26: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” Lights go out by one of two means: veiling the light of Jesus from view, that is, hiding the good news of the gospel we believe, or extinguishing the light altogether, a more active rejection of the good news. We might hide our light because we feel intimidated into silence by a world inhospitable to the gospel, remembering that this “world” is well represented within the PCUSA itself. We might extinguish the light by disbelief or hostility toward God and his purposes for us, in the form of open disobedience to God’s Word. But dysfunctional relationships and skewed family systems will do it, too, and turn us into mere institutional survivalists. In any case, even one congregation gone rogue undermines the light-bearing capacity of the rest.

In some presbyteries, congregations, and among individual Presbyterians, the light of biblical faithfulness, obedience to Jesus, and vivid testimony of the transforming power of God is fading. And since Presbyterians hold dear the value of connectionalism, if one Presbyterian light bulb short-circuits, it has the potential for damaging the integrity of the denomination’s entire witness. This is one reason why congregations either want to take “Presbyterian” out of their name—to minimize guilt by association—or disaffiliate with the PCUSA.

But here is the Advent Call: the stresses of the present moment should motivate all Presbyterians to stay plugged in to our Power Source, reflect the glory of our risen Savior, shine brightly in the hope that sustains us, and prophetically light the way toward Christ the Lord. “Let your light so shine before people, that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven!” (Matthew 5:16).


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