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The Christmas Eve Candles

A story to be told as part of a Christmas Eve candlelighting service, where each person in the congregation winds up with a lighted candle. Near the primary worship leader are three rows of candles: one tall candle that is lit as the congregation comes in to the service; two medium-height candles directly in front of it, waiting to be lit; and four short candles in a row in front of that.

Source: Dana MacLean Greeley, the minister at my Unitarian Universalist church when I was in my teens, used to tell a story much like this one every year at the Christmas Eve candlelight service.


Each year on Christmas eve, we light candles here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Valhalla. Soon, each of us will be holding a lighted candle, and the light from all our candles will light up our church. We have a reason for lighting all these candles, besides the fact that it looks pretty. Let me tell you a little bit about why we light all these candles.

Here in front of me is a tall candle, a candle that is already lit; this candle was already lit when you walked into this room. This candle represents the light of the ages. It represents the wisdom that people have been able to know since people first existed. Those who are willing to search for it, all people, of all cultures and races and nations, right on down through the ages, have been able to find the light of the ages.

[Someone lights the second row of candles as worship leader says the next part.]

Right in front of this candle representing the light of the ages, you can see two more candles. These two candles represent the prophets and sages. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who was one of these great prophets. Of course there are others — Socrates and Confucius and Buddha, and people like Joan of Arc and Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi — and the prophets and sages whose names we haven't happened to have heard in this time and place. The prophets and sages have reminded us — continue to remind us — of the wisdom that is our birthright.

[Someone lights the third row of candles as worship leader says the next part.]

Then you can see four more candles in front of the those two. These four candles represent the teachers who appear in every age, in every community. When I say "teachers," I don't just mean school teachers. Teachers are the ones who introduce us to the prophets and sages, who take the time to remind us of the highest wisdom. They might be your parents, or someone here at church; other friends, mentors, and guides, or even the author of a book you once read.

And finally there are many more candles representing you and me, all of us. We will light all our candles from these candles representing the teachers, the sages, and the light of the ages. For we all have been taught, we have all been touched by the wisdom of the sages, we have all felt our lives brightened by the light of the ages. And it is our sacred duty to let our own lights shine, to keep the light of wisdom, the light of hope, shining in the world around us.

Remember this as you receive the light which lights your own candle. The prophets and sages have spoken, the teachers have taught us, but it is up to us to make sure the light of the ages, the light of wisdom and justice and righteousness, burns brightly in the world today.