Airports, Flashlights, and Candles ...
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn. 1:1-5, NIV).
There was a small airport west of the town where I grew up that had a beacon to guide planes at night.
This beacon rotated so that, on a clear night, you would see the beam of light flash over the house from north to south every 30 seconds or so. That ray of light was so powerful, it could be seen for miles, which wasn't like the flashlights of that era.
I delivered a morning newspaper back then … I had to have it to the homes before 7 a.m. In order to do so, I managed to find a small bracket that I could attach to the handlebar of my Schwinn Stingray so that it could hold a standard flashlight to help guide me. Overall, it did an "okay" job, but the beam was never like that of the airport beacon. I couldn’t see more than five or six feet in front of me. Those two D-cell batteries just didn’t have the power provided by the airport's generator and that little flashlight bulb didn't have anywhere near the wattage!
Maybe that’s where my search for a more powerful and effective flashlight began … I'm not sure. But I have owned and tried hundreds of different flashlights over the years, each one more progressively effective and powerful. The three things that seemed to matter were the wattage of the bulb, the quality of the reflector, and the size or power of the energy source.
In the past, if you wanted a really good beam that would last, it meant that the flashlight would be big and bulky.
Over the years things got better. I graduated from the Eveready Flashlights that firemen wore on their helmets (you remember the ones that were a sealed battery, square and the light came off at a 45 degree angle) to the Maglites and Kel-Lites that law enforcement personnel carried, which utilized multiple cells and krypton bulbs. Later, there were the Streamlights and then the tactical flashlights of our modern era ... ones that don’t utilize a bulb but instead, an LED to generate a high intensity piercing light. Now, I have a knock-off 3-cell aluminum flashlight that utilizes an LED array to give me like 850 lumens or some crazy number like that … far more than my little Ray-O-Vac plastic flashlight on my bicycle.
Of course, all of this reminds me of my favorite worship service during my years of local church pastoral ministry: Christmas Eve. We always had a candlelight service where we took the flame of the Christ Candle on the Advent wreath to light the first candle of the congregation and then passed that flame from person to person, neighbor to neighbor, wife to husband, brother to sister, row by row until every person in the sanctuary was illuminated by the small candles they held in front of them while we sang a closing hymn. The hymn always varied, but told of God’s love expressed to us through the coming of the Christ child into our world.
I share all of this because it seems like that candlelight service and the rotating airport beacon seem to be pretty good analogies for the identified purpose and function of the church … to be a beacon for the lost to find their way safely home. And while the small candle of one individual seems insignificant at first, the combined witness of many folks in a community can be like that multi-arrayed display of LEDs that generate enough light to overcome the darkness of the world in which we live.
This Christmas season, one in which we continue to live with Covid-19, and one in which we continue to live with political scandals, racial unrest, school shootings and so much more darkness, let your little light shine alongside the light of your family, friends and neighbors so that the world may know that the darkness will not overcome the light of Christ.
Lord, help me to shine my light in the darkness alongside others. Even more, let my light be a reflection of your light, that all may know the way to have a relationship with you. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains