The Last Candle

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. . . . and they will call him Immanuel—which means, “God with us.” – Matthew 1:21, 23 (NIV)

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

 It wasn’t a good Christmas for Henry. His oldest son had been badly wounded in the war. And it was another Christmas without his beloved wife Fanny, who died three and a half years earlier as a result of burns suffered in a fire that Henry himself tried to extinguish. The scars from the burns he received while trying to save her made shaving too painful, so he grew a beard—a constant reminder of his tragic loss.

Henry was all too familiar with grief. His first wife died at the age of 22, days after a miscarriage while they were traveling abroad. He’d buried a year-old daughter and a 20-year-old sister. His grief that Christmas after his son was wounded drove him to pen the following words: “And in despair I bowed my head, ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’”

The year was 1864. The war was the Civil War. The poet was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Times haven’t changed much, have they? The country is still at war. Our young men and women are still being wounded. And people still carry burdens of unbearable grief, especially at Christmastime. A season that should be joyful is, for many folks, a reminder of what they have lost. 

I didn’t set out to write a column that would depress you, especially on Christmas Eve.  But I know many of you are coping with grief. Perhaps this is the first year without your husband or wife or son or daughter or mother or father. Perhaps you lost your job this year. Or you’ve received a diagnosis that has left you staggering. Perhaps in your pain you’re wondering where God is. Peace is absent from your life.

Oh, how we’d love to capture the wonder and joy and magic of that first Christmas and carry it around with us all the time! But the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds went back to work, the wise men returned to their country, the blazing star disappeared, and a jealous, insane king ordered the slaughter of all male children two and under. 

In 1872 Longfellow’s poem was set to music. Today we know it as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The last stanza reads: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.’” 

What a message of hope! Even in our deepest pain and grief and despair, the last candle burns: Immanuel. God is with us. Yesterday, today, and always.

 As I light the center candle on my Advent wreath—the white candle—I am reminded that it symbolizes Jesus, your Son, who came to give us hope, love, joy, and peace. Thank you, God, for the best Christmas present of all. Amen.         

Read and reflect on: Luke 2:1–20.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea for the Seasons © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The Seed and Me

 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. — John 12:24 NIV

No discipline is pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. — Hebrews 12:22 NIV

It’s cold down here. And damp. And so very black. I can’t tell which way’s up or which way’s down. I can’t see what’s ahead or behind me. I’m all alone. 

Oh, for the day when I lived in a nice, warm, bright packet with my family and friends! It was cozy and dry in there. I wanted for nothing. My shell was smooth and sturdy. Nothing could get to what I guarded within.

But one day a hand ripped open the packet and shook me onto the ground. Then clumps of moist dirt covered me, and I was alone in this strange, cold, dark, place. What did I do to deserve this? I cried. Why me? But no one answered. 

Time passed. I didn’t know when it was day or night. How long? I wondered—and wept. Just when the ground around me became comfortably dry, water seeped through the soil, chilling me and softening my shell. Then one day, it cracked open. Oh, my beautiful shell! Oh, the pain! My innermost being was now exposed to the ugly world around me. 

But I was changing. A tiny green arm sprouted from my insides, and I began reaching, stretching—until I pushed through the soil into the brightness above. Uncurling, I lifted my face. I felt the warm caress of the sun and the whispery kiss of the wind. 

Day after day, night after night, I reached and reached and reached. Then one day a tiny bud appeared on my stalk. Slowly, it unfolded, opening to the sun and wind and rain. 

“Oh, how beautiful!” I heard a voice exclaim one day as I danced with the breeze. 

Do they mean me? I wondered. I wasn’t beautiful as a seed. I only became beautiful when I died to what I was and allowed the soil and water to change me. And when I reached for the sun.

My flower is fading now, but I’m not done yet. Deep within my blossom are countless seeds, just like I was once. Someone carefully removes them, dries them in the sun, and places them in a clean, dry packet. 

 Dear God, I am that seed—falsely content in my envelope world. But You know what it will take to transform me into what You have planned. Just when despair is about to overwhelm me, remind me there is a purpose for the cold, dark, lonely times—a purpose for the pain. Grant me the strength to keep reaching and the faith to believe that someday I WILL bask in the light of the Son. Amen.

 Read and reflect on James 1:2–4.

 From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.