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‘Christmas is God lighting a candle’

Jesus, the Light of the World, sent us to spread his love in the world’s poorest places.

Rich Stearns holds Sreyva, then 5, at a World Vision night outreach program for street children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2012. There, World Vision staff care for children living in the margins of society.
(Photo: ©2012 Jon Warren/World Vision)

On Christmas Eve, my church holds a candlelight service, as many churches do. It begins with a single candle glowing in the darkened sanctuary. From this flame, the congregants light their own candles, one bright wick igniting another, until the radiance of hundreds of candles fills the church. The service concludes with us leaving the church, carrying our light out into the dark world.

The symbolism is obvious yet breathtaking.

Jesus is the Light of the World. And he conferred this same title on his disciples, and on us, when he said, “You are the light of the world.” In Matthew 5:16, he told us: “… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

In his book For All God’s Worth, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright said: “Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight. You light a candle in a room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are.”

When Jesus was born 2,000 years ago, the world desperately needed his light. And it still does today, with 65.3 million people — half of them children — displaced by conflict around the world; 16,000 children dying every day of preventable causes; and 27 million people trafficked in the sex trade.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ ”
John 8:12

These miseries recede to the murky corners of our consciousness when we’re busy decking the halls. But Jesus came to save the people trapped in those tragedies. And he sends us to love them as he does.

He calls us to comfort the blind mother in war-ravaged South Sudan who cannot see how emaciated her child has become. He asks us to extend compassion to the hardworking father who fled violence in his Iraqi village, carrying his disabled teenage daughter in his arms. Jesus asks us to love the Syrian grandmother in a tented settlement in Lebanon, who grieves for lost loved ones while struggling to care for her three grandchildren.

Even a small match lit in total darkness gives off a blinding light. At World Vision, we believe that’s what the love of Christ can do in the darkest places. That’s why we go to the margins, where human suffering is greatest, and where children grow up in extreme poverty. These are not easy places to serve, but if one act of love in Jesus’ name can spark a flame that spreads and glorifies God, it’s worth the effort.

Your loving act of sponsoring a child shares Christ’s light, too. Sponsorship helps children to become who God created them to be. You’ve lit these children’s candles, and now they sparkle brightly in their communities.

Even better, sponsored children grow up to shine where they live as parents, teachers, doctors (like “Dr. Jacobo”), pastors, and leaders. It’s my Christmas wish that someday, these adults of tomorrow will light up the whole world.


+ Rich Stearns is president of World Vision U.S. and the author of The Hole in Our Gospel and Unfinished.

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