Monday, December 7, 2015

Lighting Candles

"The Dawn From on High Shall Break Upon Us"
- At The Desert Retreat House -


While browsing through the social media yesterday afternoon I was especially struck by someone’s “twitter” message: There is so much terror and darkness in the world - I don’t even feel like celebrating the holidays this year. I am sure that there are many people who might agree with that sentiment - it’s been a pretty bleak time in our world and in our nation with all the acts of violence, terrorism and mass shootings. But for me, the darkness in the world doesn’t make me want to celebrate the “holidays” less, it makes me want to embrace this time of feasts and festivals all the more.

Jews throughout the world have now begun the 8-day Hanukkah festival- a religious celebration commemorating a time in ancient Hebrew history when the temple in Jerusalem was besieged by an enemy force. During the siege faithful Jews huddled together inside the temple in solidarity with one another, determined not to let the enemy destroy their sacred shrine. They lit lamps to burn throughout the night to show their oppressors that the Hebrew people were still very much alive, but the oil in the lamps was about to run out and would soon leave the temple in darkness. The miracle of Hanukkah was that, despite all odds, the lamp oil never got depleted and the lamps kept burning throughout the long nights of the siege until the enemy at the gate finally gave up and went way.

I love the story of Hanukkah, not because it commemorates some past historical event that happened long ago in a time and place that has little relevance to my own life,  but because it is a wonderful and enduring tale of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of darkness and despair. Like those ancient Hebrews, people from all over the world “huddle together” at this time of year to celebrate festivals during which they light “lamps in the darkness” of the night to proclaim that we are very much alive and to show the forces of darkness and hate that, in the end, the light will prevail and Love shall overcome.  

In this season of the year when the daylight hours seem to be losing the battle with the hours of the night, Jews light the candles of Hanukkah and Christians light candles on an Advent wreath and gather together around evergreen trees bedecked with glowing strands of shining lights. The statement could not be more obvious: The days will soon be longer than the nights, tyranny and terror have already lost the war.    

Martin Luther King Jr. once said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness,
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate,
only love can do that.

I want to celebrate this time of feasts and festivals more than ever when the darkness of the world seems darker than ever. I want to huddle together with people of goodwill everywhere and light candles in the darkness. Obviously you need not be a Jew or a Christian or a religious believer of any kind to stand together and light the lamps that pierce the night proclaiming that we are very much alive.

This morning, as I watched the desert sun rise up over the eastern mountains, I recited a passage from one of the Christian Gospels, a perfect sentiment as the world celebrates this hope-filled season of candle lighting.

The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

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