Celebrating Our Inner Festival of Lights
December 11, 2005
Before I get to the topic of celebrating our Inner Festival of Lights, I want to make sure that a certain someone is not in the congregation. You see, there was this preacher named Rev. Dunn. His wife would usually accompany him each Sunday to church. One particular Sunday when the sermon seemed to go on forever, many in the congregation fell asleep.
After the service, to be sociable, she walked up to a very sleepy looking gentleman. In an attempt to revive him from his stupor, she extended her hand in greeting and said, "Hello, I'm Gladys Dunn."
To which the gentleman replied, "You're not the only one."
So—if Gladys Dunn is here today—please—I don't want to know!
This year Hanukkah—the Festival of Lights begins at sundown December 25. Interesting timing in a way—because there would be no Christmas if it wasn't for Hanukkah. Why is this? Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Jewish people over the Assyrians about 150 years before Christ was born. As the story goes, the Assyrians were a pagan people—while the Jewish people were the only people in the world at that time to believe in one G-d. The Assyrians forbid the Jews to teach the Bible and were instead forced to bow down to carved idols that were placed in the holy temple. A brave Jewish family called the Maccabees rose up and united the Jewish people against the Assyrians. The Maccabees were out-numbered, out-weaponed, and out-classed in war. The Jewish people should have been annihilated, but won because of courage, hope, and faith—and the miracles that G-d made to support them. If the Jews had lost, there would not have been the ability to have a Jesus—thus, no Christmas.
Now, after the Jews were victorious they re-entered their temple and found it in a shambles. They cleansed the Temple and when it came time to re-light the Menorah—the candelabra—they searched the entire Temple, but only found one small jar of oil. Miraculously, the small jar burned for eight days, until a new supply of oil could be pressed.
From then on, the Jewish people have observed a holiday for eight days in honor of this historic victory and the miracle of the oil. This holiday is Hanukkah—the Festival of Lights.
There really are more similarities than differences in the various faith paths. The faith holidays that occur in December share many of the same themes such as hope, faith, renewal. Today I want to talk about the Festival of Lights—not Hanukkah per se, but our inner festival of lights. I believe that each of us is born with G-d's or Spirit's or the Infinite Intelligence's holy light burning inside of us. All we need to do is look at the delighted face of a baby or the joy of a young child discovering something new. Yet, over the years as we mature and begin to face some of life's challenges, the light can flicker or dim, or even seem to go out. So it's this notion of our inner light that I want to address.
Just as we need kindling and a match to light a fire—there are two essential components to igniting our inner light—these are HOPE and FAITH.
Let's start with HOPE. Taking the letters of the word and making it into an acronym, I came up with HOLD ON—PRAYER EMPOWERS. Yes—Hold On-Prayer Empowers. Now this is coming from me—that woman who 3-4 years ago sat over in that section in the Chapel and wondered, "What the heck is going on here?" "What is Rev Jim talking about when he says that G-d loves us unconditionally?" And, most importantly WIIFM—"What's in it for me?" Well, Lord have mercy! If I may deviate from my Jewish roots for just a moment—I'm here to testify!! Because I know that G-d is Good, G-d is Awesome—always and in all ways! And one of the ways I found this out was through prayer.
Now I never knew there were "types" of prayer—yeah, I know I should have probably paid more attention in Sunday school—but ya know—most of the prayers I was taught were in Hebrew—and I simply memorized them as the good student. But as a student at Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development I learned there are prayers of praise, adoration, intercession, scriptural, and petition. Here I thought all prayers were "G-d, do this for me or do that for me. Thanks. Amen." And when that thing I wanted didn't happen—heck, what use was G-d anyway?
HOPE, and knowing that prayer empowers, is the kindling that is the foundation for our inner light. Now, I'll get to LIGHT in a bit—but for now, when I say inner light—I am referring to G-d's love and G-d's grace. I stumbled in my first attempts to praise G-d. My teachers told me "fake it til you make it." ..... Now, there are other things that I hear tell some women fake....... But prayer?
And then I was put to the test. A beloved cat of mine became ill. This was not just any cat—but it was a cat that had been my Mother's—and when my Mother passed—the cat became mine. My Mom's passing triggered lots of tapes in me such as "Everyone who loves you leaves you," or "You're destined to be alone," or "Your life will always be a disappointment." Now six years later, her cat—my cat, begins to go downhill. Here was a choice point. Really—all of our life decisions are choices. Did I want to go back into the dark and dredge up all of those stories again—knowing that perhaps I could get some attention from others by playing the victim OR did I want to move towards the light. I knew what I wanted—but could I get there?
My favorite place for chatting with G-d is my hot tub on my back deck. I climbed into the tub determined that I would not get out until G-d and I made peace. An hour later—looking very much a prune—I emerged at peace and knowing that all would be well. What I did and how I did it—well, sounds like a good topic for another sermon! HOPE—being a witness to the empowering outcomes of prayer made the difference and my inner light was fed and glowed more brightly.
Next FAITH—the acronym I devised is Find Abundance in the Heart. Author Ruben Alves writes that "Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is dancing to it now."
There is the story of an atheist who falls off a 2000 foot cliff. He grabs onto the one twig 1000 feet down. He looks up to Heaven and figures it is worth a shot. "Is anybody up there?" he asks. "Yes, it's Me, G-d," comes the response. "Thank G-d for that," the atheist replies. "Please G-d, help me. I'll do anything," "Of course my son. But I have just one request to make." "Anything G-d," replies the atheist. "I will save you my child," says G-d, "but you have to trust Me first. Let go of the twig and I will catch you." The atheist looks down at the rocks 1000 feet below and looks up again. "Is there anybody else up there?" We can know there is a G-d intellectually, but having faith in G-d's love and grace is something else.
When we lack faith we separate ourselves from G-d. G-d's love is never absent—only our faith in it is. Faith is believing in the return of light when the season brings early darkness. Faith is knowing that we can become the lit candle to provide all the illumination we need. Faith is knowing that every human possesses a pilot light that connects us to our G-d or Higher Power. As we find abundance in our heart we bring truth to what have been illusions, we replace fear with love, we have faith that we are healing from the inside out.
In the Torah—the first five books of the Old Testament—faith is called emunah. The Torah teaches that G-d, the Highest Source of all being, is in active and intimate contact with everyone and everything. G-d's guidance is based on G-d's knowledge and loving desire to bring about that which is in our best interest, for our ultimate good. Our faith is that—as Creator and Designer of all—G-d knows what is good for us...better than we do. This is what has encouraged me to know that in all of life's occurrences there is always a lesson and a blessing.
Speaking of the Torah—there once was a preacher who told his congregation that anything they could think of, old or new, was discussed somewhere in the Bible and that the entirety of the human experience could be found there.
After the service, he was approached by a woman who said, "Preacher, I don't believe the Bible mentions PMS."
The preacher replied that he was sure it must be there somewhere and that he would look for it.
The following week after the service, the preacher called the woman aside and showed her a passage which read, "And Mary rode Joseph's ass all the way to Bethlehem."
With Hope and Faith—prayer and abundance—we move to the Light. And what is LIGHT? Very simply—Letting in G-d's Holy Truth. G-d's holy truth lets us know that forgiveness of ourselves and others sets us free; that compassion and love are available to us with every breath we take; that if we want more love we must first give it to ourselves; and that G-d's love is unlimited and unconditional.
Allowing our Inner Light to shine is allowing G-d into our hearts, our bodies, our souls. The Love of G-d takes our pilot light and turns it into an inferno. Now isn't that a reason to celebrate our Inner Festival of Light?
And so, here is our lesson from the miracle of the Hanukkah oil. If we look into our hearts, we may feel at times that we don't have enough joy to be celebrating—that we don't have enough oil to keep a lamp of joy and love burning for eight days. We may think the supply is limited—not enough to sustain hope or faith in the midst of darkness.
But, we are invited to light that lamp, with the small amount of hope and faith we can muster; perhaps just a wish that we may find a deeper joy. And it is LOVE itself which responds to our acts of faith and hope. The Hanukkah lamp burned for eight days. There is a larger force in the Universe that can lift our small hearts into a Larger Joy. We don't have to do it ourselves. The oil will be there if we merely light the first lamp. This is the promise of this holiday season. If we open our hearts, the deeper celebration will find us.
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