My friend Martha is all excited that this candle lighting liturgy she wrote is being used in 122 churches across the world. She even mapped it. I said it to her and I’ll say it again: it’s an ecumenical wonder. How amazing is it that all of these different churches are using the same words as they look for hope, peace, joy and love in this Advent season? I remarked in a sermon a few weeks ago that there are 215 denominations. 215! We could have just as many — and probably many more — different words used in worship but 122 churches across the world are centering themselves in the same words.
Almost because I changed the words. Only slightly. I kept the heart of it but when I sat down with my worship planning group a few months ago, it became clear that we needed more than one light each week. As this small group of people talked about the challenges we are facing as a community and as individuals especially at this time of year, it was clear that it was dark enough. My sermon today gives a hint to one of the concerns weighing upon my congregation, but there are others. Many, it feels. We needed a bit more of the Light of World to enter into our midst than we needed to experience another dark Advent.
So, the usual drill with a family coming forward to light one candle each week wouldn’t work this year. In fact, in this congregation, I didn’t really think that it worked last year. There needed to be another way to claim this tradition of lighting one candle and then another until the Light of the World comes. Martha published these beautiful words just in time. I had figured out that what we would need this year was a liturgy that allowed us to recognize the hope, peace, joy and love in the lighting of one candle while still making room for more light.
I knew that the wreath wouldn’t be a wreath. It would need to have space for us to add candles. It would need some room for the whole table to become ablaze in light as we get closer and closer to Christmas. I called upon my friend Ashley Goff to help me figure this out so that when Martha’s words appeared, I knew that they were the exact words. They just needed to be tweaked. It needed a different ending so that this week I spoke these words before members of our church family came forward to offer their lights of hope:
We light one candle in this Hope. In one shining light, we embrace God’s presence among us, yesterday and today and always.
We want to believe that light shines in the darkness, but one candle is not enough to sustain our hope. We need more light to remember that hope yesterday, today and always. So, you are invited to come forward and light another candle as you speak of the hope you see in the world.
After candles were all lit, we sang the third verse of this hymn. And now, I just wonder what will happen next week as still more lights start to shine as we seek God’s peace.