Long red candles have been a warm and inviting Christmas emblem for many centuries. Today, they protrude from table arrangements of evergreen and holly, or they sit on the windowsill for the neighbors to admire. In olden days, however, candles were hung on Christmas trees as ornaments. In fact, if you look closely at most electric Christmas lights, they resemble a taper or a flame. Everyone knows that candles are an iconic holiday symbol, but no one really knows how they became associated with Christmas.
In ancient times, pagans would light candles during the dark winter as an expression of anticipation for spring. People also placed candles in their window to signal to weary travelers that they could rest at their home. When the British persecuted Irish priests, Catholics in Ireland placed glimmering tapers in the windows as a sign that the priests were welcome in their homes. And over time, Christians of old began lighting candles during advent to symbolize the coming of Jesus Christ, the true Light.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). As God, Jesus is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). By contrast, we are born in the domain of darkness with a darkened heart (Romans 1:21; Colossians 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9). Our sin nature even hates the light (John 3:19). And the good news of Christmas is that Jesus came to earth to give us light so that we would not wander hopelessly in the darkness: “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
Jesus shines brightly like a brilliantly burning candle in a grimly dark room. The darkness has nowhere to hide from His luminous light. And if you follow Jesus as the light, He will remove you from the kingdom of darkness and shine forth His light in your formerly blackened heart. That is why Paul said, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Hymn writer James Quinn captured this beautifully when he penned this stanza in Blessed Be the God of Israel:
“The rising Sun shall shine on us,
To bring the light of day.
To all who sit in darkest night
And shadow of the grave.
Our footsteps God shall safely guide
To walk the ways of peace.
His name forever more be blessed
Who lives and loves and saves.”
Bible Gleanings is a widely-read weekend devotional column, written for the Murray Ledger & Times in Calloway County, Kentucky.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English Shepherd), and Dot (Bluetick Beagle).