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The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel: Called to be children of the light

Our neighbor George, who is into worship experiences, recently commented that he felt those who follow Jesus have a credibility gap when it comes to the celebration of Christmas. Why do you believe that? I asked. Because, he responded, they have a tendency to selfishly take the "love that came down at Christmas" and keep it for themselves. Why do you think they keep it for themselves? I asked. Because, he said, love is love only when it can be given away and it is much easier to receive than it is to give.

He went on to quote the "great commandment" (Matthew 22:37). First, to love the Lord your God with heart, soul and mind, and second, to love your neighbor as you love yourself. It is relatively easy to receive love and have that internal warm, fuzzy feeling that God loves me. It is a lot harder to share the love with others, especially those you don't agree with or even dislike.

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I thought about this because Jesus in the Gospel of John is recorded as saying that he is the light of the world (8:12). This is a powerful theological metaphor. At the same time, in the Gospel according to Matthew, what may be more powerful and challenging (5:14) is Jesus' reminder that "you [we] are the light of the world," then adding that we should not hide our light but rather let it shine.

Just as the moon has no light of its own, reflecting the light of the sun, so believers are called to reflect the light of Christ so that all can see the love of God in us. Those who follow the teachings of Jesus are called to reflect his light not just in a church building where it is generally safe but in the world where it is often unsafe. We move toward a spiritual maturity when we walk in the light. George asked if believers actually reflect the light of Jesus or do we more often reflect the darkness of the society around us. The German philosopher Nietzsche once commented that if he saw more redeemed people he might be more inclined to believe in their Redeemer. "Walking in the light" means we walk in the world God created, and we walk in his power and following his teachings.

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Maybe the choice we face is, are we part of the children of light or part of the children of darkness? Writer Colin Williams wrote that we are called to be "in but not of the world." In the Gospel according to John, Jesus in his "high priestly prayer" said, "I am not asking you to take them out of the world but I ask you to protect them from the evil one."

Our Christmas celebration is more than simply receiving the love of God. It also calls us to give that love away. We know of one family that, when they take down their holiday decorations, always leave one candle in the window. It is to be a constant reminder that they are called to reflect the light of Jesus in everyday life.

What does being a child of the light say to ongoing issues raised in Ferguson, or immigration, cutting benefits for the poor, or even the nasty confrontation in Congress?

If we are called to "think worldly but act locally," what does this mean in regard to local issues? Does it mean that we are called to "build up," not tear down? We are called to make a credible witness in the communities where we live. May our witness help lead us and those around us out of the darkness into the light.

Our neighbor George reminded me that it is a lot easier to sign your name on a Christmas card than it is to sign a check for The Arc or The Shepherd's Staff or one of the local life-changing nonprofits. It is a lot easier to write a Christmas letter telling everyone what you have done than it is to get involved in helping someone else to change their lives so they have something to write about next year.

Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.

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