Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The following essay was written by Margy Pezdirtz, a member of the US Board of Directors of CFOIC Heartland. It is a reflection on the holidays of Christmas and Chanukah.
My two grandchildren, both nine years old, were growing restless as the seven of us sat in the rented mini-van creeping its way toward the entry of the nationally recognized Festival of Lights, Chickasha, Oklahoma. In an attempt to keep the children entertained we began talking about the Christmas lights that could be seen in the various homes along the way, discussing the displays and even critiquing them as though we were some sort of unseen judge. We talked about the colors and which was our favorite as well as the craftsmanship in hanging the various exhibits.
As our vehicle entered Shannon Springs Park, outlines of robotic soldiers rendered us a stiffened salute and welcomed us into the display area. Electrified animals of various sizes and colors waved their season’s greetings to us, and trees along the park’s roadway danced to computerized music. The air was charged with excitement as children – ours included – abandoned their cars and ran through the lighted areas looking, touching, ooing and ahhing over their favorite displays. Noah chose a three dimensional dragon as his favorite while Amber chose an elaborate bird – no a waving Santa – as hers.
The joy of the season was magnified in the children’s faces as they ran from one display to another, touching, sizing up and then on to the next. A brightly and beautifully lit bridge crossed the small pond, inviting us to make use of its lighted pathway. We paused to count the ducks in the pond and hurried on to a lighted ice house display. Whatever the imagination could dream up, some brilliant engineering student had managed to lay out and make come to life in the fascinating animations. It did not matter whether they were indicative of the season or not, the lights were there for the enjoyment of all who were willing and patient enough to wait their turn to enter into the fantasy land of holiday lighting.
Where had it all begun, this tradition of Christmas lights?
Research shows that there are all sorts of reasons for holiday lighting going back to the candles first placed on German Christmas trees years ago as a symbol of wealth, some sources even tracing the tradition back to the Mid-Seventeenth Century. Over the years and with the invention and perfection of electricity, the candles slowly turned into electric lights, with each year presenting a safer, more secure light that could not only prevent unwanted fires, but could blink, bubble, change colors and fascinate.
I can remember the first time my mother brought home bubbling lights and placed them on our live Christmas tree in front of the picture window in our home on a farm in northern Oklahoma. It didn’t matter that we were far from any major highway, or any paved road for that matter, we needed those lights to be in the window to be seen by all passers by, few as they may be. Mother took great pride in those lights and passed that pride on to the four of us.
Over the years, as I’ve passed from child to parent and now to grandparent, the lights of Christmas have taken on another meaning for me. As a Christian Zionist, I’ve learned about the amazing miracle that is Chanukah and how that one small vial of oil, enough for a single day of burning in the Temple menorah, lasted for eight wondrous days allowing time for more oil to be made ready. I’ve learned the story of Judah Maccabee and his family, how they stood to fight against the evil Greek dictators who demanded that Jews sacrifice pigs on the altar of God. And, I’ve learned how, in their righteousness, that small band of rebels overthrew the mighty army and took back the Jewish house of worship – the Temple – restoring it to its rightful place of holiness.
As I’ve come to understand Chanukah, the Christmas lights that began with a few candles on a Christmas tree as a symbol of wealth have taken on much greater meaning for me. These Christmas lights not only remind me of the miracle of the savior who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but they also remind me of the miracle that was granted at Chanukah more than a century earlier. They are shining witnesses to the miracles of God that we’ve had the good fortune to experience throughout history and that are still happening if we are willing to look for them. Each flickering light brings hope and pierces the darkness that would engulf the world and pull it into an abyss of evil, but for God. No matter what the color or the intensity, those shining lights are a witness to all, intentional or otherwise, that the darkness will be rolled back and God’s pure light will continue to shine and provide direction.
In recent years, we have celebrated the Jewish holiday of Chanukah in our home. Tonight, we lit the first lights of the Chanukah season and prayed, “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Chanukah. Amen.” Tomorrow night, we will light the second candle and repeat the prayer, continuing throughout the eight days of miracles. In the middle of those eight days will come Christmas, and we will marvel at the overlapping of these special days. I don’t believe it is an accident that this year, with so much uncertainty, fear and concern for the future, the two seasons of light are overlapping and interconnected. This year, we need lights that pierce the darkness and bring us reassurance that God is still a God of miracles and if we seek Him, honor Him and rejoice in Him, we will find the darknes