A Small Light

Isaiah 60:1-6
Arise! Your light has come.

Matthew 2.1-12
Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked,  "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

* * *

In case you hadn’t heard, our own Howard Cauvel died December 12. Not many of us knew Howard. He was quiet and reserved. He was a computer nerd and proud of it.

Howard graduated from Wake Forest with a thousand questions buzzing in his mind. He had too many reservations about religious dogma to be officially baptized. But, for some reason, he loved being part of this congregation. He sat many a Sunday right there with eyes wide open.

This coming Saturday we will gather to mourn Howard’s death and celebrate his life. Fanfare for the Common Man will be played. It was Howard’s favorite piece of music.

Howard left behind a wife and two young children. The grim prognosis announced after Thanksgiving had been 3-6 months. As it turns out, it was barely three weeks.

Death just before Christmas is doubly devastating. It’s harder than hard. But, somehow grace found its way into that family. Something greater than death filled their home on Christmas morning. As it turns out, some gifts can’t be bought or boxed.

We are a community of faith. We can’t do everything. We can’t know everything. But we can trust. Even when some of us can’t quite get there, we trust for them. We trust that love will endure and grace will abound. Yes, we wait for the Lord whose day is near. But in the meantime we practice compassion.

Over the years our women have lovingly knit 200 some prayer shawls. Many of us have wrapped ourselves in these prayer shawls. My son has one. So does his girlfriend. And so does Carrie Strider, Wendy Ransom’s sister. Just before Christmas, Carrie sat in Baltimore anxiously waiting the outcome of brain surgery on her 5-year-old son Nick. And while she sat she was wrapped in prayer.

I took a prayer shawl to Howard’s wife Beth the day after his death. We talked, we hugged, we prayed. And soon after and for many days casseroles arrived. Grace in a dish.

There are many ways to reach out and touch a darkened world with love. It doesn’t have to be a blaze. A small light will do—a shawl, a casserole, a spare coat, a hand, an ear, a shoulder to lean on.

Our men’s breakfast group passed the hat last year and collected $1000 for a church brother caught in a financial bind. In November the youth of our church spread out through the parish to rake leaves, wash windows and clean gutters for those who couldn’t. Last January our youth traveled to DC to lend a hand at a soup kitchen and homeless shelter. Last June they helped build a house for a destitute family in Wayne Co. West Virginia.

Each month last year youth and adults prepared and served a hot meal at the Jefferson Co. homeless shelter. Each month we carry dozens of pounds of food to Jefferson County Community Ministries. This past November our women’s group visited the Capitol to advocate for programs to feed hungry children in this nation and around the world.

In December our youth purchased and wrapped Christmas presents for three impoverished families. Our children made Christmas cards for disabled and abandoned children in Haiti under the care of Wings of Hope. Last month we sent hundreds of pounds of clothing and shoes to the Martinsburg Rescue Mission. Last February we provided hundreds of blankets to Church World Service disaster relief centers.

Our October Peacefest hosted people of various traditions—Jewish, Buddhist, Islam, Bahai and humanist. We listened as they affirmed the teachings of compassion at the heart of their respective traditions.

There are many ways to reach out and touch a darkened world. It doesn’t have to be a blaze. A small light will do.

Last September a group of us paid a visit to the Jefferson Orchards near Kearneysville where migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico pick apples. As we have for 10 years we took a scrumptious meal plus boxes of rice and beans and canned foods and bags of clothing. We gave but we also received in return. Testimonies from the migrants of joy and hope despite hard times lifted our spirits.

One of our children was instantly befriended by one of the migrant children. Emily and Jennifer became fast friends. Just before leaving for home our Emily took off her hooded sweater and gave it to Jennifer. No one prompted her. Emily could see for herself. Emily could see that Jennifer wouldn’t have much to keep her warm come winter.

At the heart of the Christian life is the practice of compassion symbolized in this little meal. We take the little we have; bless it; break it open or pour it out. And give that others might live.

Take. Bless. Break. Give that others may live. Wherever we may be. In church, at home, in shops, labs, studios, clinics, classrooms, offices, on a bus or on a sidewalk. We hold forth a small light.

In this New Year, with God’s help, we will again hold forth our small light in ways and places we have before. And in this New Year we will hold a light against the terror of gun-inflicted massacres, against the greed of mountaintop and watershed destruction, and against a tragic, cynical and wasteful criminal prison system.

Yes, the darkness is great. But even the smallest of lights will vanquish the deepest night.

* * *

I Am the Light of the World

I am the Light of the World
You people come and follow me.
If you follow and love, You’ll learn the mystery
Of what you were meant to do and be.

When the song of the angels is stilled.
When the star in the sky is gone.
When the kings and the shepherds
have found their way home.
The work of Christmas is begun!

To find the lost and lonely one,
To heal that broken soul with love,
To feed the hungry children
with warmth and good food,
To feel the earth below the sky above!

To free the prisoner from his chains,
To make the powerful care,
To rebuild the nations
with strength and goodwill,
To see God’s children everywhere.

To bring hope to every task you do,
To dance at a baby’s new birth,
To make music
in an old person’s heart,
And sing to the colors of the earth!

(Words & music by Jim Strathdee)