The first storm rolled in overnight on Monday, the week of Thanksgiving. Cold temperatures, freezing fog, and gusty winds in the wide open spaces made for difficult travel as people tried to reach their family and friends to celebrate the holiday together. Our family was all delayed as they came to visit us, but they were able to make it safely, and we were able to enjoy a Thanksgiving day filled with gratitude as we all sat around the table together and enjoyed the food and each other’s presence.
We started hearing about a second winter storm that would arrive on Friday, and we all joked that we might get snowed in. By Friday night, those jokes turned into concern. Predicted snow totals were rising. Winds were raging. The first precipitation that fell was not snow, but freezing rain, and everything was coated in a beautiful, but dangerous sheen of ice.
That Friday night, I sat by the window as the storm raged outside, and I was praying and writing as I finished preparations for Sunday’s Advent service. Just as I was caught up in a moment and the words were streaming out onto the page, the electricity in our house flickered on and off rapidly several times. And then, everything went dark.
My kids panicked as they fumbled around trying to find a flashlight. My first thought was, “Oh great, how am I going to get everything ready now?” and then I started feeling around for my phone so that I could turn on its flashlight. Before I even found my phone, my husband Jeff had already found a candle, lit it, and placed it on a tall counter top. The small flame lit up the whole main level of our house enough that we could find our way. The kids found a flashlight. I found a notebook and pen and started writing again. Jeff was able to set up a couple more candles and a lantern flashlight, and we were all able to see again.
We were without power for a few hours that night, but we were far better off than many people in our area who remain without power a couple of days later. We were able to sleep that night, but the storm continued to rage. Even when the snowfall tapered off, the winds picked up and caused low visibility and treacherous snow drifts.
By Saturday evening, churches in the valley were all wrestling with the difficult decision to cancel services. In our time at our church, we had never once canceled. This Sunday felt especially important to hold services. How can you cancel worship on the first Sunday of Advent? How will you begin the journey if you cannot begin it with the whole community? For everyone’s safety, we decided to cancel services. I believe it was the right decision, and yet, the decision left me wondering how Advent would begin if I was not able to take those first steps of the journey with my community.
Sometimes the struggles we face in our lives – with our health, or broken relationships, or mental illness, or the stress of our circumstances – can leave us feel like we are sitting in a dark room with no way out and no hope. We might feel cut off, separated, lonely, or hopeless, and the journey ahead might seem impossible.
As I begin this first Sunday of Advent snowed in and without my community, I am reflecting on that single candle that Jeff placed on the counter top on Friday night. With the heaviness of the darkness threatening to smother us, a single candle didn’t seem like it would be enough. Yet, its light cut through the darkness and helped us find our way. One light didn’t shine brightly enough for us to see everything, but it was bright enough that we knew the peace of hope.
On this first Sunday of Advent, if you find yourself alone, discouraged, heartbroken, confused, or apart from any kind of community, shine your lonely candle. It may not feel like much, but our lonely lights can break through even the most profound darkness. If we each shine our lonely candles, we will illuminate the world with the hope, love, joy, peace, and goodness of God’s perfect light. Even if we are separated from one another for this time, our lonely lights will shine together and show the way to the world.
This first Sunday of Advent, let’s shine our lonely candles of hope. And, if we are too weak to shine our own lights, let us look to the lonely lights of others. They are enough to see by. And together, through the grace of God, we will light up the path until the day when we are all joined together by the Light that no darkness can overcome, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh for us.
Prayer for lighting the first Advent Candle – Hope
Jesus Christ, Light of the World, I look to you. On this first Sunday of Advent, I light the candle of hope to remind me that even when I am not strong enough to have hope on my own, your perfect Hope will carry me through. Give me eyes to see your Light that can never be overcome by the darkness, and give me the courage to shine my lonely candle today and always. Amen.