Is it time for us to stop lighting the candles and singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve? Most people love this tradition. Some people come to church only on Christmas Eve just for this moment. Many love the memories it brings and the warm feeling.
That’s not enough for me.
I admit, some of it is the Christmas cranks. In 47 years I’ve probably lit the candles 61 times. Usually by the time we get to the Silent Night point in the worship service I’m tired, my feet hurt and I’m ready to go home. But my dissatisfaction is more than bah humbug.
Just before Christmas I heard an interview with Jose Miguel Sokoloff on NPR’s This American Life. (click here to listen to the interview or here for the Ted Talk) Sokoloff is an advertising executive whose firm was hired by the Colombian government to produce propaganda that would convince FARC soldiers to demobilize. One of their campaigns was to bring Christmas lights to the jungle. They put 75 foot trees wrapped in blue and white lights along key paths in the jungle. When a guerrilla walked by he or she would trigger a motion sensor that would light up a sign, “If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilize. It’s Christmas. Everything is possible.”
Sokoloff says the campaign worked because of beauty and surprise. It awakened a longing, but didn’t satisfy, for Christmas with family and friends. The lights led the FARC soldiers to risk leaving the jungle to find what they sought.
Do the candles on Christmas Eve lead us somewhere new? If they awaken a longing for a deeper relationship with God and a closer connection to our neighbor, then let’s keep doing it. But if they just give us a momentary feel good feeling, point us only to the past and not to a new future, then maybe it’s time to blow them out.
I’m at least half way through my life and I need more than Christmas card Christianity. I need more than sentimentality. My faith has become grittier in the last few years. Following Jesus needs to make a real difference or it’s just a waste of time.