The other day I heard of a new seasonal job vacancy. This was that of Christmas lights detangler for a UK branch of Tesco’s. Given the modern propensity of some to festoon their whole house with lights, and with a personal vivid memory of struggling with unwisely stored strings of old Christmas tree lights, I suspect the new position may have great possibilities for expansion.
According to some versions of Church history, Martin Luther is sometimes credited with inventing Christmas Tree lights. The story goes that one evening he was walking back home through the forest. The stars were shining and twinkling through the trees and he was so impressed he wanted to convey the same effect by bringing a cut tree into the house and rigging up candles among the branches. Even if that were exactly as it happened, I suspect such activity would be frowned on by modern Health and Safety inspectors not to mention argumentative insurance assessors. On the other hand it is not hard to see why light imagery came to be associated with Christmas.
Both Matthew with his story of Wise men following a star to the manger where Jesus lay, and Luke with his heavenly angels singing to the shepherds at night are using metaphors which fit a notion of Christmas lights. Similarly when some Christian leaders in the fourth Century settled on a formal date for Jesus birth they symbolically chose the Winter solstice as the date when winter darkness makes way for increasing light.
With the latest trends we may have gone astray in forgetting that we celebrate Jesus birth, not so much so that we can outdo each other with great parties and shimmering suburban streets, but rather that we should be trying to remember the original notion of Christmas was the start of a new way of thinking about what Jesus’ coming might mean.
Believing that we can best celebrate Christmas with extravagant and expensive light displays seems a little odd when we remember that the one whose birth we celebrate came to bring new ways of thinking about relationships with our neighbours and to insist that issues of justice should take priority in our dealings with others. Surely the best way to honour that message Jesus came to bring would be to choose a celebration and a way forward that fits with his message.
Remembering the widening gap between rich and poor as a world-wide phenomenon and the desperate plight of refugees in war torn and famine struck areas I am wondering if we might think of shedding light not with strings of detangled lights for ourselves but rather by contributing to any of the mainstream agencies like CWS working in such areas.
If we must be attracted to light shows, how about stepping back a bit for a clearer view? A few years ago the National Geographic put out a satellite picture of the world’s nations at night. Areas of poverty and need were also the areas of greatest darkness. Providing electricity, food, shelter and security to those who otherwise miss out might offer a way of showing respect for the one we claim to follow and celebrate.