When I was growing up and our family would go to Church, my mother would test me to see if I had paid attention to the sermon, by asking me what it was about. Raised Catholic and a child who went to Catholic school for my elementary school years, I didn’t appreciate my faith and the people surrounding it, so how could I remember the sermon and it's message.
What is amazing is that I can recall all of the nuns who were my educators at St. Theresa School. In hindsight, the nuns and priests had a profound impact on my life then and to this day. In fact, when I was very young I wanted to be a nun. Well, we all know that didn’t happen. But it was Monsignor Rice and Sister Theresa, not part of my Catholic school but leaders of a church I later attended as a youth, who had the most influence –– they were my heroes growing up.
Presently, I can honestly say that the gift of faith that my mother introduced me to and nurtured (along with all the nuns and priests), was the best gift of all. Over the years I drifted away and turned my back on my faith, and at times was one of those "carnal" Christians with one foot in Christianity and the other in the world. Talk about darkness and inner turmoil –– but that’s another story. The good news is that whenever I returned to my faith, I always found Jesus Christ waiting with open arms and forgiveness in His heart, ready to put me back on the path of "light".
Christmas 2009 is “bitter sweet” for me because my youngest daughter is on a holiday trip, making this the first Christmas that she is not with me. However, my eldest daughter came for Christmas bringing me comfort and joy! It's interesting to note that my youngest, who does believe in Jesus still has many questions in her young mind to contend with in order to put all her faith in God, but my eldest daughter has found her way and is a strong believer; as they say in Christian circles, she’s "on fire for the Lord"!
So, with only one daughter by my side, we attended the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Grace Church here in my hometown. Considering it was Christmas Eve and church with candles, we were both excited. After all candles, developed by the Ancient Egyptians, have been used for light and to illuminate man's celebrations for more than 5,000 years. “Candles have played an important role in early religious ceremonies including Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, which centers on the lighting of candles and dates back to 165 B.C.”
As we entered the church, we got our candles, had a quick giggle, and found our place in the pews –– a mother, daughter bonding moment if you will. Later a very special friend of mine along with her family joined us. The Christmas Eve service provided a collection of scriptures from the Old and the New Testaments, some foretelling the birth of Jesus, while others confirming that He has arrived. The scripture that caught my attention and stuck with me throughout the service was Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel"––Immanuel meaning God with us.
In between scriptures were traditional Christmas carols that brought me back to my youth and at the end of the service we all lit our candles and sang, Joy to the World. With hundreds of candles burning and unity and goodwill abounding, what a precious time it was. I could feel the power of God’s love –– realizing, not for the first time but a much deeper revelation, that God actually came down from heaven to be with us –– the light and savior of the world.
This Christmas, candles have taken on a more significant meaning for me: a guiding light illuminating what is most important during Christmastime: the birth of Jesus as well as my family and friends. Also, leaving me a glimmer of a distinct memory I will have forever –– Christmas 2009.