Tuesday, January 03, 2017

A candle which consumes itself to light the way for others

John 1.1-14
I go once a month into a care home to take holy communion to some of the residents. In Advent the chaplain and the staff there light Advent candles, just like we do here, except that - because of health and safety rules - these can’t be real candles. They’re tiny electric lights that can be switched on and off. Well no one wants the residents to go up in flames, do they? But sometimes churches do the same thing, and replace their candles and tea lights with pretend ones.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite the same, is it? A proverb, especially popular among teachers, is that “a good teacher is like a candle, which consumes itself to light the way for others.” I suppose the idea is that all the late night marking and lesson preparation takes its toll. Teachers can really help to illuminate the lives of others, but only if they take great pains.
But the idea of consuming yourself to help others implies rather more than this, I think. One of the first people in England to champion democracy and the right of ordinary people - not just the bosses and the political elite - to decide what happens was an army officer called John Lilburne. For his outspokenness he was put in prison, where he caught a fever which led to his premature death. His wife was pregnant at the time. Someone said of him that he was like a lighted candle - in giving light to others he had used up himself.
And Christians think Jesus was like that, too. When he came into the world on the first Christmas night he brought a light into the world which no darkness has ever been able to put out. And yet this was only possible because the Christmas story was followed by Easter. He allowed his own life to be used up for others. And yet, unlike a candle - and perhaps more like those electric lights - his light does go on shining, because the power of love is stronger than darkness.
Christians  also believe that we should be a little bit like Jesus, or John Lilburne, or the teachers who really helped us to learn. We too should use our lives to give light to others. Could that be a New Year’s resolution?

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