The story of the Christmas candles

Here’s the story I’ll be telling to start off our Christmas Eve candlelighting services this evening….

Each year on Christmas Eve, we come together as Unitarian Universalists to hear the old, familiar Christmas story through words and songs. We also light candles together. It’s pretty obvious why we tell the Christmas story — because it’s Christmas time! But why do we light candles? For one answer this question, I would like to tell you the story of the Christmas candles as I heard it from Dana Greeley in the Unitarian Universalist church of my childhood.

We begin with a single light. This single candle stands for the light of the ages. The light of the ages is the truth and the light that is known to all peoples, in all times and places. Unlike the candle that symbolizes it, the true light of the ages never dies out. The true light of the ages is everywhere, and can be found by anyone, if we would but seek it out.

From the light of the ages, I’ll now light these next two big candles. These represent the prophets and sages. Every culture and every generation has at least one prophet and sage, men and women of exceptional wisdom and insight who bring the light of the ages to their generation. Jesus of Nazareth was one of those prophets and sages, and tonight we remember his wisdom and insight.

After we sing the first carol, we’ll light the flame in the chalice, which has become a symbol of Unitarian Universalism. That small flame will represent the prophets and sages in our religious tradition, many of whom have been inspired by Jesus — people like Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Hosea Ballou, and Eliza Tupper Wilkes, the woman who was the very first Unitarian minister in Palo Alto.

A little later on, I will light these candles here in front from the candles representing the prophets and sages (see if you notice when I do). These smaller candles represent the teachers, those who pass on the light of the ages to the rest of us. These teachers might be schoolteachers, but they are also mentors and friends and parents and grandparents, everyone who teaches us.

And finally, at the end of this Christmas Eve service, when we each receive a lit candle, we will symbolize the way the light of the ages comes to us, passed on to us from our teachers, who in turned received it from prophets and sages. And when we get done here tonight, it will be up to us to take our own light out into the world, to make our world a better place.