Christmas lights are getting out of hand. I enjoy looking at Christmas lights as much as anyone, but Americans can turn anything into a competition. ABC television is airing a series this month called “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” Twenty families compete to see who can decorate their homes with the most extreme light display for Christmas. One week, the winning family had almost 1 million lights, including 2,400 strobe lights. Their prize was $50,000. That should at least make a down payment on their electric bill.
How did this tradition get started anyway? Christmas lights originated with the Christmas tree in Germany in the 1500s. The story is that Martin Luther was walking in the woods one Christmas Eve. He was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreen trees as the snow on their branches shimmered in the moonlight. He cut one of the trees, took it home, and decorated it with candles. He used it to tell his children the story of the star of Bethlehem and of Jesus, the light of the world. By 1539, a Christmas tree was erected in the church at Strasbourg, Germany. The tradition spread to England, and then to the Colonies. Candles on Christmas trees can be dangerous, and they caused numerous fires. Electric lights were invented in the late 1800s, and in 1895 President Grover Cleveland displayed the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House. Soon people were putting lights in windows and across mantles. By the mid-1900s, lights began to be used outdoors. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center had electric lights in 1956. The practice then spread to porch railings, roof lines, and even skyscrapers. Today Christmas lights are everywhere, but most people miss the original meaning of the lights. The opening verses of the Gospel of John explain the significance of our light displays. John does not recount the events of the Christmas story as do Matthew and Luke. John does not mention shepherds or wise men or mangers. That story has already been told in the other gospels, so John concentrates on the meaning of these events. He writes, “The true light, that gives light to every man, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Our world can be a dark place. We stumble through life, like someone trying to get to the bathroom at night when there is no light on. We get off track, make a lot of mistakes, and cause ourselves a lot pain. If only we had a headlamp or a flashlight for life to give us clear direction. The good news of Christmas is that God has sent us that illumination. It comes in the form of a person, his son, Jesus. He is the light of life. If we follow him, we will have insight for living. If we walk with him, we will avoid the pitfalls lurking in the darkness. The tragedy is that many of us admire the displays of Christmas lights but miss their significance. John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:5). God is speaking to you through every Christmas light you see this season. Don’t miss his message. He is saying, “I love you. I have sent my son Jesus to light your path. He can help you find your way in life. Follow him. He is the light of the world.”