The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. — John 1:5. We’ve just finished the season of light for most believers. We had some major light shows going on in society over the past five weeks. The Jews celebrated Hanukkah for eight days and lighted eight candles on the Menorah. Christians, for five weeks, lighted five Advent candles. And though it is not a religious holiday, African Americans, after Christmas, celebrated Kwanzaa and for seven days lighted candles on the Kinara.
I think it is amazing how God gave similar instructions to all about candle-lighting during these various seasons of celebration. Hanukkah started the evening of Dec. 20, ending Dec. 28. Advent started Nov. 27 and lasted until Dec. 25. Kwanzaa ran from Dec. 26, to Jan. 1.
My New Year’s hope is we will keep the light show going throughout 2012.
The great theologian and scholar Matthew Henry said, “There is nothing we are sure of than that we think, yet nothing we are more in the dark about than how we think.” Often, our cultural beliefs divide us because of ignorance of one another’s upbring, which often creates different views and thoughts about the same things, such as these celebrations of lights.
I was fascinated by the fact the first minute after midnight Dec. 26 all three celebrations overlapped. Hanukkah ran thorough Christmas, as Kwanzaa got started. This doesn’t happen every year. For instance, based on the Hebrew calendar, Hanuk-kah’s start date is 25 Kislev; in 2012, Hanukkah starts Dec. 8 and ends Dec. 16.
For the Jewish community, the Menorah lighting was instituted as a publicity strategy: advertising to the entire world that God makes miracles for those who stand up for truth and justice. This was done because the Maccabee brothers destroyed the Holy Temple and all but one consecrated cruse of oil and the miracle was that cruse lasted long enough for the priest to consecrate more. The Maccabees chased away the forces of darkness with swords but the Jews believe the forces of darkness should be chased away by light.
This year was the 46th annual celebration of Kwanzaa, which was started in 1966 by Dr. Ron Karenga, a black studies professor. It was designed to celebrate and honor the values of ancient African cultures and is based on the harvest of the first fruits. Each of the seven days during Kwanzaa the family lights a candle in honor of each of the seven Kwanzaa principles believed to be key in building a strong, productive family and community. These principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
For each of five weeks during Advent, Christians light a candle in celebration of five key biblical principles: hope, peace, love, joy and, on Christmas Eve or Day Good News, the birth of the Light of the World. I personally like John’s version of the Gospel story regarding Christ’s birth; John gives us more of the mystery and less of the history.
Some scholars observe that the other disciples, Matthew and Luke, wrote about the bodily things of Christ’s birth but John writes about the spiritual things of His birth. The inspiration for this article came while reading John 1: 5: “The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
It is the same God that commands the light of the world to shine out of darkness. It is God who is the light shining in darkness. To Christians, it wasn’t until the birth of Jesus that the veil of darkness was lifted. So, you see, this past year’s season of lights is unique in history. Rarely do all three celebrations of light coincide as they did in 2011. For a minute, we were all lighting candles for hope and peace at the same time.
So, this year, let us all pray we can keep the light show going.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or firstname.lastname@example.org