Copyright by Bob Rogers.
When I served as a Baptist pastor in Rincon, Georgia, I had the unique experience of putting on a white wig and an old robe borrowed from a Methodist, to give a dramatic presentation of the founding pastor of the oldest Lutheran Church in North America. The historic pastor’s name was Johann Boltzius, and his church was Jerusalem Lutheran Church, founded in 1734 in the Ebenezer Community in Effingham County, Georgia, some 30 miles north of Savannah.
School children came from all over Georgia to the retreat center at Ebenezer to learn Georgia history. They visited Savannah, and they also came to the old Jerusalem Lutheran Church, whose sanctuary was built in 1769, to hear me tell the story, in costume, of Boltzius who served a congregation that fled to the New World from Salzburg, Austria, in search of religious freedom.
After the presentation, students were given an opportunity to ask “Pastor Boltzius” questions. One day in March, a student asked me why it was so dark in the church. With a gleam in my eye, I explained that it was Lent, a season in which members of that church remembered Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. Members of the church fasted, prayed, and thought of other ways to make sacrifices in memory of Jesus, and during this time, they kept the window shutters closed. In fact, on Good Friday, they came into the church and sang songs about Jesus’ death, and then blew out all of the candles and went home in total darkness. The students reflected on that quietly, and I paused. Then I waved my hand at the shutters and shouted, “But on Easter Sunday morning, they threw open the shutters, let the light in, and celebrated, because Jesus is alive!”
Whether or not your church observes the tradition of Lent, it is an important reminder of how any Christian can get ready for Easter, by first reflecting on the suffering of Christ. I encourage you to read the story of the crucifixion from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Spend time alone, silent, reflecting on it. Fast and pray. Think about your own sin, your own struggles, your own sorrows, and how the suffering of Christ forgives, redeems and renews you. Meditate on the dark, and the light will brighten you more when it comes. Like that church in Georgia that threw open their shutters, if we will remember how dark it was when Christ died, we will appreciate all the more how glorious it was that He arose!
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Ever since the star of Bethlehem led the wise men to baby Jesus, Christmas has been associated with lights. For centuries, Christmas lights meant lighting candles.
Lights on trees
The tradition of putting up Christmas lights began with putting candles on Christmas trees. Christmas trees originated in Germany by the 16th century, from several different traditions. Some Germans actually burned an evergreen tree in the town square and danced around it. There is a popular legend that Martin Luther, the German Protestant reformer, began the tradition of putting candles on Christmas trees. The legend says that one crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.
Whether or not this is true, we know that the Advent wreath was invented in 1839 by Johann Henrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor who worked with the urban poor in Germany. The children would ask every day if Christmas had arrived, so Wichern built a ring with evergreen and candles to candles to light the 24 days in December before Christmas, and large candles to mark the Sundays. Later this was simplified to four candles for the four Sundays, and a Christ candle in the middle for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The custom of lighting an Advent candle did not spread to America until a century later, in the 1930s.
Origin of electric Christmas lights
On December 22, 1882, Edward H. Johnson, vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, displayed his Christmas tree with 80 red, white and blue electric lights bulbs the size of walnuts, at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. This was the first time a Christmas tree had been illuminated with electric lights, but the idea spread quickly. Three years later, the White House Christmas tree was covered with electric lights. By the early 19th century, it became popular to put lights on buildings, not just on Christmas trees. In the 1960s, with the construction of so many subdivisions in American communities, it became the custom in American neighborhoods for many families to cover their houses with lights. This custom has spread around the world, and is particularly popular in Japan.
Today, Christmas lights cover waterfronts, caverns, skyscrapers and shopping centers. Some even use synchronized timers to have their lights flash to music. May each light remind us of a star long ago that led to Jesus, the Light of the world!
Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14)
Our world is in a mess, but Jesus Christ told us exactly how to change our world in the Sermon on the Mount, when He said to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Jesus told us what to be and what to do.
1. What you should be: salt and light. Why did Christ pick the illustration of salt and light? Salt is used as a preservative and to flavor food. Likewise, we should influence our world. Paul gave an example of this in 1 Corinthians 7:14, saying that the believer who remains married to an unbelieving spouse can influence them toward salvation. Light reveals and reflects. Likewise, we should reveal truth, glowing with the glory of God in our lives. Interestingly, Jesus said here, “You are the light of the world,” but in John 9:5, He said, “I am the light of the world.” This is no contradiction; Jesus is the source of the light, and we can merely reflect His light. We have no light within ourselves; we only get it when we are plugged into the power source through a relationship with Christ Himself.
2. What you should do: keep your saltiness and shine your brightness. Jesus said in this passage, that if salt loses its taste, it is no longer any good. A lot of Christians are sassy but not salty. We need to keep the saltiness but lose the sassiness. Jesus also says in this passage that nobody puts a lamp under a basket, but he puts it on a stand so everybody can see it. A wise person once said, “The best way to deal with change is to create the change.” Too many Christians are reactive instead of proactive. We have good news! We have hope! Spread it around and let it shine.
3. Why should we be salt and light: to glorify God. Jesus concludes by saying, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” The reason for us to be salt and light is not so that others will look at us, but so that they will look at God.
Acts 17:6 says that the people in the city of Thessalonica were so stirred up about the influence of the Christians that they said, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here, too!” The early Christians changed their world. So can we.