Rev. J. Vance Eastridge, 1998
Our house and grounds are decorated for Christmas. When we found our home-to-be a long-ago May afternoon, the grounds were blooming with hundreds of purple iris. We quickly adopted the iris as the symbol of our home. Late spring and summer would introduce many other flowers and colors, but on that spring afternoon of our discovery, my mind sprang over the ensuing months to Christmas. In my mind I immediately saw the house and grounds decorated for Christmas. The white picket fence that surrounded the grounds was hung with evergreen garlands with a bright red ribbon topping each fence post. The roadside pole lanterns alongside the driveway that led from the gateway to the house wore red ribbons and evergreen from which hung brass hunters' horns. The house is a three-story white federal-style with third-story dormers and a porch flanking each side. My imagination on that May afternoon immediately conjured up early-American Williamsburg. I saw sprays of evergreen, nuts, and fruits under each window-sill with a single candle burning in each window. Central to the front lawn was a great tree, a towering spruce from which hung a thousand burning lights of bright colors. It was an ideal Christmas card come to life.
When Christmas came that first winter, we decorated the house and grounds in the way that I invisioned it on that spring day. Each Christmas since, we have made it our traditional decoration. With a natural snowfall which has come each year, the picture is complete.
This year we added a 'tradition'. Traditions aren't begun, traditions become such by repetition over a period of time. But, in this instance, it 'started' as a tradition because it visually represented what was in our hearts all the while. After the lights were hung on the 'great tree', the garland was strung, and the windows decorated, we placed the candles in the windows. The candles were on electrical timers that turned them on at dusk and turned them off at midnight. Each year everything as planned has been carried out. This year, however, a glitch occurred. The candle in the guest bedroom window would not turn off with the timer. We replaced the timer with another. That timer was defective. Yesterday I replaced a third timer to that candle.
It came on at dusk as expected. This morning, however, at five o'clock when I went to the gateway to the street to pick up the morning paper, I discovered, on walking back, that although all the other windows were dark, the candle in the guest bedroom was still burning. Immediately, a revelation came to me. That is how it should be. We should be leaving a candle burning in the guest bedroom window to guide and welcome the Christ child into our home. And so, at the breakfast table I announced that a new tradition has been born. Whenever the Christmas season begins with Advent and the decorations go up, the candle in the guest bedroom will be lighted and will not be extinguished until Twelfthnight when the Christ child is at home in the world. The candle is burning now!
In the Jewish heritage of our Christian faith, there is a custom that is relevant to this. At Passover, an empty chair is placed at the table bearing the Seder meal around which the family gathers. The empty chair is left for Elijah should he come. The entry door of the house is left ajar for Elijah to pass through to his place at the table. The expectation of Elijah is central to the celebration because it was believed that when the Messiah came, Elijah would return to lead him into the world. It was in the fulfillment of that prophecy that the apostles and early Christian saw John the Baptist as Elijah announcing the Messiah, as, in truth, he did by the Jordan River on that afternoon of Jesus' baptism, beginning his messianic ministry.
So, symbolic of Jesus' coming into the world that first Christmas with no room at the inn and a forced hospitality in a cattle stall, there is a candle in our window, burning in the darkness, to lead the Christ child to a place of welcome and warm hospitality. Our guest room is ready, and the candle burns in the window....