By Andy Christian Castillo
It’s so dark it seems bright; that the mind plays tricks, hallucinates, stamping bright impressions where there are none. There’s only silence, not a sound or a sight.
Then, suddenly, a spark somewhere in the back: Pale golden light flickers to life, surrounded by blackness enveloping the space like a deep morning fog — suffocating existence in its deathly grip. Suffocating everywhere but where that single candle dutifully breaks through and kisses.
All eyes are drawn to it, a single pinprick against the void, a beacon of hope amidst a darkening world.
They’re all here: pious parishioners and annual attendees alike, come to seek God in a place of worship. The church is a beautiful stone building with high arches and a tremendous pipe organ that overlooks row upon row of pew, most of which are empty every other day except for today.
It’s Christmas Eve.
A single voice cuts through silence, buttery silence thick enough to taste. Breaths’ inhale, captured by the throng of that one voice.
Another candle comes to life, another voice joins, followed by another and another. Soon, the building echoes with joyful music, brightly lit by dozens of burning candles. Around, the onlookers join in, hoping their voices are heard in the heavens — will reach God. All are here to seek God, because, ’tis the season.
The irony of it all is that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus: when God became human, in order to meet us where we are. We don’t need to find God in a church — he’s right here in our midst. That’s what God is all about. Born as a refugee, in poverty, destitution; an outcast. Born into the blackness of the human race: a single pinprick of light shining through an evil world.
At his birth, he was visited by common laborers, poor shepherds, and also academics: so called wisemen. The first to visit God on earth were poor people — and scholars who came many, many miles seeking God, and found him living among the poor.
And they called his name Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins; is saving people still. Years later, in an act of complete selflessness and humility, Jesus died on behalf of you.
On behalf of everyone: the ultimate example of God’s grace exemplified in human experience.
A single pinprick of light that overcame the darkness, which draws our gaze like a candle burning in darkness.
God is with us.
Emanuel means God with us: my favorite name for God.
Christmas is a season when we celebrate that reality; that God is with us, everyday, every hour, ever second. A step further, we celebrate Christmas because of Jesus’ later selfless act. We celebrate Christmas because God’s grace overcomes evil.
And there will never be a time when that’s not true.
Even in our darkest, most painful hours, when we’re at our worst, God is with us. Emanuel is with everyone, the faithful parishioners and the annual attendees alike.
Thus, perhaps another way to celebrate Christmas — other than attending a Christmas Eve service — is to light our own candles directly from the source; burn with the same flame that first candle burned with so many years ago.
Seek God as the wisemen did — find him living among the poor, loving on humans that need love most.
And not just during that holiday season. Celebrate Christmas, celebrate God’s grace shared with humanity, in daily interactions — spread the grace and love exemplified by the act of God, now known as Christmas, in the spring, summer, fall, and every other time; not just in December.
I think that’s the best way to recognize the season.