One of my favorite moments every year is gathering in the traditional church. The smell of pine and the view of stained glass windows surround us. We gather with fellow believers to have a Christmas sermon and sing carols. At the end of the service, the church dims the lights. We all hold candles. Then, the “angels” come to light the candles of each row. When everyone has their candles lit, we begin to sing “Silent Night” together. Maybe you have experienced the beauty and reverence of a candlelight service? Today we are going to explore the history behind the Christmas candlelight service. I pray that we glean more about this time of worship to move our hearts into more and more worship our of Savior this year.
Many times when people think of a candlelight service, it is in mourning and remembrance of someone who is gone. However, at a Christmas service, Christians are celebrating that Jesus is the Light of the World. Those who believe in Him are called to shine their light from within to this dark world.
Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
I think back to the children’s worship song, “This Little Light of Mine.” We are called to shine for Christ with our individual lives. Our small candles make a tiny difference in the darkness, however as we find ourselves in a vast room with many little lights, our light as a whole becomes a brilliant scene of illumination among us. This is the power of Jesus’ work among the body of Christ.
If we simply attend a Christmas candlelight service as a tradition and go into the church inattentive, we miss the power of what we are participating in. We are provided with a time to show great awe and high esteem to Jesus. We are provided with a visual of what is happening around the earth as one person accepts Jesus as Savior, they add a new light into the world. We even see this visually in Acts 2:3 when the Holy Spirit enters at Pentecost like tongues of fire on the believers. As we come together every time in community to worship the Lord, our lights combine into a brighter impact. As we go out into the darkness of the world, we have the Light of Christ within us shining.
History of Christmas Candles and Candlelight Services
Woodward News shares that it is said in Germany that churches would light fires on the sides of the road to welcome those who were traveling to get warm. The group would minister and spend time together with those visiting. They later are said to commemorate this tradition with candles.
Sash Windows from London share history on Christmas candles. They say that putting candles in the windows dates back to colonial times in the UK. “The tradition grew from the Irish whose faith was outlawed by British priests attempting to repress the Irish Catholics, preventing them from practicing their faith. As a result, the priests went underground, traveling and worshipping in secret. Irish Catholics began lighting candles in their windows and leaving their doors unlocked at Christmas as a sign it was safe for a priest to visit under the cover of darkness.” They tell that for Christians, the candles lit at Christmastime represent the Star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to Jesus.
As we ponder the idea of lighting candles at Christmas time, we cannot ignore the connection to advent. During the advent season, candles are lit in anticipation of the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Most of the time, a candlelight service occurs after the lighting of the fourth candle and before the 5th which is lit on Christmas Day.
Joel Ryan from Christianity.com teaches on the reasons why the church lights candles during advent. He shares, “Regardless of specific Advent traditions and differences in how it is celebrated across cultures and countries, Advent is a time for all believers and families to commemorate the arrival of the Messiah, prepare for his second coming, and celebrate the joy of Christmas together.”
The Christmas candlelight service brings us in on the journey as we have been spiritually reflecting on the candles lit throughout the month. This is a great reminder that Jesus did a work and shone His light into the dark world, and we too are invited into spreading the gospel of Jesus. He shines, so we are able to shine too.
As we even consider that Jesus was a Jew Himself and celebrated the Feast of Dedication. Pastor Raphael Giglio from My Central Jersey shares, “Jesus made sure he was in Jerusalem during Hanukkah, The Feast of Dedication, in John chapter 10. He did not ignore it, or any of the prescribed feasts… He told His followers that they themselves were the “light of the world” and should not be hidden away but to be like a lamp stand (or menorah) and “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5).
As we ponder Jesus having gone to this festival of lights, we can praise Him for being the Light of the World. The Jewish people were waiting on the Messiah to overcome the darkness of the world. Jesus was in their midst and He was about to save anyone who would believe in Him, welcoming Jews and the Gentiles alike. When we have a candlelight service, we are essentially rejoicing that the Light has come. The victory God’s people hoped for had arrived and we are saved by His death and resurrection on the cross.
This year, if you find yourself in a candlelight service, may it open your eyes to what is happening spiritually in the dark places. We could not get to our Perfect Creator because of the gap of our sins. However, He had a plan and Jesus came to us and after he died and rose for our sins, He ascended into heaven and gave all who believed in Him the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, we are blind and in total darkness, but by accepting Jesus into our hearts, we can see. Maybe we should start incorporating Amazing Grace into our Christmas Candlelight Programs. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”
Photo credit: Unsplash/DavidsonLuna
Emma Danzey’s mission in life is to inspire young women to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. Emma is a North Carolina resident and green tea enthusiast! She is married to her husband Drew and they serve international college students. She enjoys singing, dancing, trying new recipes, and watching home makeover shows. During her ministry career, Emma recorded two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, ran the Refined Magazine, and served in music education for early childhood. Currently, she is in the editing stages of her first two writing projects: a Bible study on womanhood and a non-fiction book on singleness. You can visit her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com