Our hearts are just like these candles. When our hearts are lit on fire, they provide light and heat. The light is the words and actions of our Christian faith. The heat is our love for others, which warms even the coldest heart. A heart aflame, is a heart that is properly waiting for God.
The book of Malachi was the last word in the Old Testament, and those who were waiting for Jesus were holding on to that prophecy. Malachi essentially warns against the temptation to put our relationship with God in a low priority. Mary and Joseph, the wise men, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, were all waiting for the coming of the Christ by closely guarding the flame of their hearts. If we put it in terms of candles, holding a candle in your hand should never be mistaken for having a lit candle in your hand. We too are supposed to wait by closely guarding the flame of our heart, ensuring that it is brightly burning in anticipation of the arrival of Jesus.
Our hearts are just like these candles. They cannot light themselves. They must be lit by another flame.
On that first Christmas, 2017 years ago, a flame entered our world. Jesus was the light that was sent by God. We heard the story tonight, and hear it each year in our celebration of Christmas. But, the Christmas story is not just about Jesus. He was not alone. Did you notice that half the Christmas story in the book of Luke is about John the Baptist? Isn’t that interesting? Most people skip right over the part about John the Baptist, because they don’t want his interruption in the Christmas story.
But, John the Baptist isn’t misplaced. He belongs right in the middle of the Jesus birth story. Let me explain why.
Before God is finished speaking in the book of Malachi, He promises that before Jesus the Christ comes, He would send Elijah. This messenger would have the duty of preparing the way for the Christ. But how would the Elijah character make the waiting people ready for Jesus?
God says, “he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” In other words, the forerunner of the Messiah would have the old flame of love. The people would be challenged to love one another like God the Father loved them. The old flame would point to the new one, because, in the end, they are the same kind of light. They are both shining God’s love.
By seeing John the Baptist as a lit candle, the people would see that they had let their own candles burn out. They would want to be lit, once again. The people would yearn for God’s love once again. They would understand their need for Jesus to rekindle the flame.
The Christmas story found in the fourth Gospel says that Jesus was the Word made flesh, and John the Baptist was the witness. God chose to include the human story with the Divine story. This is why John the Baptist in in the middle of the miraculous Christmas story.
We are just like John the Baptist: our own story is written in the middle of the Jesus story, because God is using us to be witnesses of Jesus. Our role as regular human beings is elevated by God, and placed into the very ministry of Jesus Christ. We ought to have hearts that are lit, witnessing to the true Light, just like John the Baptist did. People will then see our hearts on fire as we wait, and will notice that their hearts are not glowing with God’s love; and they will be prepared to meet Jesus, and have their hearts filled with His love too.
In our time, people have grown weary of waiting for Jesus to come again. We have been born at the last of the old waiting period. People are even forgetting what Christmas is for, and do not remember that Jesus came as a little baby, in fulfillment of prophecy, in order to bring His kingdom. They forget that He is at the right hand of God the Father, and is ready to come back at any moment.
We are different. We remember. We celebrate the bright light that Jesus brought into the world. He is why we give gifts to one another, and sing Christmas songs, and have a holiday of loving one another. And, like John the Baptist, we are also the witnesses that come right before Jesus comes again. We have the sacred task of turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. We are witnesses to the coming light, by being lights ourselves.
Only Jesus can light our hearts in a flame of love. Only love can ready people to meet Jesus. Tonight, we finish lighting the Advent candle as a symbol of what God has called us to do: to keep our hearts burning until Jesus comes again. And, He is coming again very soon.
So as we spread the light from one another, ask the question of God, “How do you want me to shine the light of Your love to those around me? How do you want me to be your witness?” In the silence, as our candlelight grows and grows, listen for His answer in your heart, and join us as we sing. Finally, when all our candles are lit, we will light the last candle on the Advent wreath, to symbolize Jesus coming again.