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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Free light and crystal ducks

(This reflection was written on Cyber Monday, and will also appear in the Christmas edition of Branches, the newsletter for Trinity United Church in Oakville.)

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Gospel of John 1:5

           I have been putting up the outside Christmas decorations at our house. We have a small collection of items that are meaningful to us as much for who gave them, as for what they are. Over the years of our marriage, I have noticed that as we accumulate more things in general, we are more hesitant than we used to be to acquire new items. Where to store it all? What precious, or formerly precious item would need to go, to make room for the new thing? (I think people are like that with ideas and traditions as well- do we really want to give up what is familiar, in favour of something to which we don’t yet feel connected?)

We have been gradually replacing our older lights with energy efficient L.E.D.s. This year we took a further step, and bought a few solar spotlights, and a string of mini sparkly lights that have a solar panel, that generates electricity stored in rechargeable cells. I love that at least some of these decorations shine at night, because of  light we saw in the day. I don’t know if we are actually saving money (especially if I factor in what I spent on the new items) but there is still something satisfying to me about “free light”.

When it gets dark (Which these days seems like about 10 minutes after the kids get home from school!), the solar lights, which are controlled by ambient light sensors, turn themselves on. The rest of our lights, the more conventional plug in ones, come on with a click of the remote control.  The lights that draw current from our house, and set the power meter whirring with excitement, are much brighter than the little solar powered ones. The glare from these “not free” lights reaches the sensors on the solar lights, and they turn off.

I am trying to find an arrangement on our front lawn that will allow both kinds of light to shine at the same time- but it’s a challenge. The plugged in lights (which I am starting to think of as representing the more commercial, consumerist aspect of Christmas) are so bright, that my noble little “free power” solar lights (symbolizing all that money can’t buy) simply cannot be seen.

             In the culture we live in, money is so often used to measure the significance and the worth of things. “Time is money!” “Act now for big savings!” “When you care enough to send the very best!”  “No payments, and no interest for 36 months!” To suggest that the deeper meaning of this Christmas season cannot be bought or sold, and is probably not on display next to the Swarovski crystal duck with the 24 carat gold beak, is a radical, counter-cultural statement.

But it’s also absolutely true. What we are meant to celebrate at Christmas is the presence of love in our human reality. We see in the birth of Jesus God’s passionate desire to tell us that we are all precious, loved, needed, and accepted, no matter what messages we have absorbed from the world about our value.

There are ways in which we can use our resources and money to communicate our love. But there are also ways in which spending money actually seems to take the place of really showing a person that we love them, and that our interest in them goes farther than checking their name off our “to buy” list.

I had an inspiring conversation last week with a man who is one of the wealthiest people I know. We were talking about Christmas. He said that the thing his family most loves to do in this season is find a family that is having a really hard time, and find ways to support and help them. Sometimes that means giving them money. Sometimes that means paying to fix a car, or a furnace. Sometimes it means having them over for supper, or bringing a meal into the family’s home, and sitting down with them to enjoy it together.

When my friend was talking about the joy his family finds in finding ways to be useful, and to bring light into other people’s lives- his face was glowing with excitement. Our world needs more of that kind of light, that may involve spending, but which cannot be bought.