Tending the Light: An Advent Spiritual Practice

Tending the Light: An Advent Spiritual Practice

Spiritual practices take many forms. For me and my family, from Advent to Epiphany, our practice is to watch over a light. That is, to babysit a flame.

We have been doing this now for four or five years; and this watching over the light has become an integral part of our Christmas tradition.  Whereas most people put up trees for Christmas, we get out an old oil lamp, purchase gallons of unscented lamp oil[1], and stock up on Yankee Candles. We go to a congregant’s house and grab a set of antique train lanterns that are particularly wind resistant and invest in some nice long matches. Then we wait to hear when the light will arrive and make often convoluted arrangements to receive and then share the light.

This light that take so much of our time and attention is the Peace Light of Bethlehem[2]. It is the flame that burns eternally at the fabled place of Jesus’ birth which has, with great care, been flown across the ocean and then disseminated throughout the United States (it travels to other countries as well).

Once we receive it, we keep it lit throughout Advent and Christmas until Epiphany Sunday. Each week it makes a guest appearance in our worship and the rest of the week it is kept lit in the parsonage. This means every outing, every action must come with intention and thought: How many lamps are lit? How much oil or wax is left? How can we keep the light lit safely when we go out? Who is watching the light if we  go out?[3]

Now I must confess to you that my dedication to this light is not as much about its origins as in the message I take from its dissemination.  Truthfully, I am not convinced that the perpetual flame of Bethlehem is anywhere near Jesus’ place of birth. However, it amazes me and offers me hope in humanity that so many different people, countries, and corporations can come together for a cause.  To me, this is the true beauty that is imbedded in the flame.  Cooperation and an accord of peace encompass this symbol of love and that is something I can celebrate.

This year, the underlying story is even more meaningful. Because of the pandemic, the flame could not make its regular migration. As this sad reality set in and people began to mourn the possibility that the light would not be able to be shared and that yet another tradition would not be possible this year, an alternative emerged. A few people began to speak up that they had never extinguished their light. In fact, it was still burning in several places and available to be shared once again.

So, as with much in this time of pandemic, the tradition is a little altered, but it goes on. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” And so it is.  The light has been nurtured and tended and is once again being spread throughout this country and the world. It is already atop my mantle reminding me that God always finds a way.  Even in troubled times, God is at work fostering good will, encouraging hope, and calling on people to do the work of hope, justice, and love.

So “arise, shine, for your light has come” (Isaiah 60:1), let us shine it out into the world. If you would like the light, you can receive it from 8-6 this coming Saturday or Sunday, December 5 or 6, in front of The First Congregational Church of Brimfield, UCC, 20 Main St, Brimfield.  Bring a lamp to receive and transport the light. Masks are required when you are at the church. The local Boy Scout troop will maintain the light in their fire as they man their tree and wreath sale booth out front of the church.  If you need to make other arrangements, contact Rev. Dawn Adams (pastordawnadams@gmail.com) / 413-240-1149. 

May this practice remind us all what can be possible.
[1] Unscented lamp oil is important. Scented will cause you and your family to either flee from the scene or smell like you’ve been working in an oil refinery.
[2] More information on the Peace Light can be found at peacelightnorthamerica.org .
[3] As a practical matter, we always try to keep two wicks burning. Yes, one has gone out because we hit the table and the melted has swamped a wick. Others who care for the light suggest lighting a stove or water heater pilot lights with the peace light for safety and security purposes. Unfortunately, we have neither in the parsonage or the church. We do, however, start our wood stove with the light. When we go out for a short time, we store the light in the train lanterns which we put in a metal bucket which gets places away from all debris in the garage. And yes, we have actually gotten babysitters for the light.


Dawn Adams

Dawn Adams is a member of the Immigration, Refugee and Asylum Task Team, and pastor of First Congregational Church of Brimfield, UCC (MA).

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