Published on November 26, 2021

Lean into the light

Leaning into the Light

What we often call the “holiday season” is also a season of light.

Earlier this month, members of the Hindu faith celebrated Diwali a cultural and religious harvest celebration that includes lighting lamps and candles that symbolize the triumph of light over darkness, even as the days grow shorter. Celebrants reflect on ancient stories that tell of the triumph of good over evil, of thankfulness and hope over despair, of prosperity over poverty, and of light over darkness.

Hanukkah—the Jewish Festival of Lights—begins at sundown this Sunday. The holiday celebrates a moment from the 2nd century BCE when the Jewish people rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and successfully rebelled against an oppressive foreign power. In the lighting of the Hanukkah lights of the menorah over a period of eight nights, Jews celebrate the miracle of a one-day supply of oil that lasted for eight days and lighted the Temple. The Hanukkah lights are a symbol of God’s care for His people through their struggle for freedom.

The Christian season of Advent also begins on Sunday, and the liturgical tradition of celebrating the four Sundays before Christmas by lighting candles marking “Advent,” the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. The candles are symbols of hope, love, joy and peace—and the expectancy of Christmas as the celebration of the birth of the Christ, the one who “gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). It is a season of anticipation and hope.

Additionally, the celebration of Kwanzaa is held each year starting on Dec. 26. Created in 1966, the holiday celebrates African heritage, unity and culture. On each night of Kwanzaa, a candle is lit to honor seven key principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

“Let there be light” are the very first words spoken by God in the Genesis account of creation. In the shortest and darkest days of the year, it is through the symbol of light that we celebrate those things that are foundational and essential. The words of the prophet Isaiah are the perfect summation of leaning into the light of God’s love, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2, NIV).

Writing about his own tradition, but in words that are applicable to the practices of other faiths as well, Rabbi David Wolpe states, “[We are] grateful for our gifts and grateful for our past, given so long a legacy to celebrate in so sublime a land. So we light a candle, set the table, say our prayers and declare the miracles—of our tradition, our freedom and our future. We rededicate ourselves to live so that we might be worthy of the greatness bequeathed to us and merit the joy of handing it on to generations.”

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