It is dark. The lights have been dimmed and the people wait in hushed expectancy.
As eyes adjust, the outline of fat white candles can be faintly discerned. Candles standing in place awaiting the flame that will bring them to life.
The scraping of a match sounds loud in the quietness; the flare of the flame leaping to life, an audible noise. The candles are lit. The service proceeds. Words wash over me; The light that was coming into the world…
But my thoughts are on the match. A small wooden stick; organic, yet dead. An even smaller mineral tip. I assume that mix of chemicals is mineral. My mind grovels in the deep recesses of memory in search of long forgotten knowledge. What elements are volatile enough to flare into life from the heat of friction? Phosphorous, sodium, potassium… I don’t actually know what matches are made of.
How much energy goes into striking a match? A small amount. Yet the whole building is transformed as the flame of life is passed from one candle to the next. Light and life; two intertwined concepts. That match brought light and life to the church. And was consumed in the process. A black shrivelled bit of carbon, discarded without regard once its work is done.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel… Emmanuel; God with us. Invitation, waiting.
The house is ready, cleaned and dusted. The table set. Food prepared just needing last minute attention once the guests are ready to eat. Nothing more to do but wait. The clock creeps round to the appointed time. A minute past. Two minutes. They’ve forgotten. I’ve got the wrong day. All these sinking feelings forgotten as the party gets under way.
Is this how we wait for God? Awaiting the great consummation when all shall be made new? But we are not ready. There is God’s kingdom still to establish on earth. Light and life to be shared with all. Christ came; the match, giving himself to bring light to the world. There are candles still to be lit; the flame must be passed on. Wicks need trimming.
There is work still to do; people to gather and care for. Yet still in the quiet we await the thrill, the joy of your unseen presence, Lord. Again and again the flame is secretly lit in our hearts. Your love stirred again to life within us.
We count down the days towards Christmas. Peace on earth; goodwill towards men. But do we remember that we who have known your peace in our hearts must be the ones to bring peace to our neighbours?
Goodwill. Generosity. Giving. Presents. Christmas shopping. Amongst the bustle and stress. Do we give of ourselves? Or have we been burnt out in the process, a wasted match turned to charcoal without lighting any candle; is there nothing left to offer? We need to be quiet, to receive you, Lord, in our hearts to be able to give ourselves to others. To listen, to care, to love the way that you did.
So we wait. We don’t so much wait for God as wait on God; our attention focused on him ready to do his slightest bidding. Ready to light the next candle with the flame of love that has been entrusted to us.