The first gas street lights were lit in 1807 in London, England, revolutionizing city life. Just 10 years later, gas street lights showed up in America, with the first lamp being lit on the corner of Baltimore and Holliday streets right here in Baltimore in 1817. Each gas powered light had to be lit by a lamplighter with a stool or ladder and a torch, and he painstakingly carried the light from lamp post to lamp post each evening at dusk.
Watching the lamplighter at work from his bedroom window, Robert Louis Stevenson (of Treasure Island fame) was fascinated.
He grew up in Edinborough, Scotland in the mid 1800’s, when there still were no electric street lights. The story goes that one night when he was a young boy, he was transfixed at his bedroom window, nose pressed up against the glass. His nanny said, as any wise nanny would, “Child, come away from there. You’ll catch your death of cold.” But young Robert wouldn’t budge. He was watching the old lamplighter slowly working his way through the black night, lighting each street lamp along his route. Pointing, Robert exclaimed, “See; look there; there’s a man poking holes in the darkness.”
And indeed he was. The dark streets were being transformed, one light at a time, creating a new streetscape that was gradually becoming bathed in light, and therefore seemed less fearful, less formidable, less foreboding. Every time the lamplighter lit a new lamp, he poked a hole in the darkness, enabling light to shine through, bringing a sense of warmth and comfort.
We gathered tonight in the darkness to be reminded that the world we live in can feel overwhelmingly dark at times, whether it is due to a medical diagnosis, a broken family, an anxious feeling about the future of our country, the climbing murder count in Baltimore, the fear racing around our globe these days, or that time of grief that never seems to end. Darkness is real.
We gathered tonight in the darkness so we could better receive the light which has come into the world, the light which is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior. How much more we can appreciate the light when we have been sitting in the dark! How much better we can see the light when we have been walking through the dark valley of life. How much more grateful we are at the arrival of the light which is Christ.
We gathered tonight in the darkness, and we watched the darkness disappear. Darkness does not overcome the light, but the light overcomes the darkness. I think about the old game of rock, paper, scissors. You have played it, I am sure. You play with one other person. On the count of 3, you use your hand to make the shape of a rock, paper or a pair of scissors. So does your opponent. There are ground rules to this game that never change. Each of the items overcomes one of the others. Paper overcomes rock, as it can wrap it up. Rock overcomes scissors, as it can pound them down. And scissors overcome paper, as they can cut it up. There is never a question about which item overcomes the other. So too with the true light, which enlightens everyone, which came into a world of darkness. The light always wins. Even the darkest of darkness can not overcome the light.
We gathered here tonight to celebrate the good news that Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is the light of all people. Jesus is the light shining through the darkness, poking holes in our fear, our anxiousness, our pain, our discomfort. Poking holes and shining through with hope, with comfort, with peace and with joy.
We gather here tonight, a group of lamplighters with the lifelong task of poking holes in the darkness in which we find ourselves. You can poke holes in the darkness which seems to be enveloping your family member going through a time of depression—even a positive word of encouragement creates a little light in the darkness. As a lamplighter, you bring light. As a believer, the light you bring is Christ. You can poke holes in the black night of fear gripping your friend with a scary health diagnosis, or a loved one facing months of difficult recuperation. The light you bring is Christ. You poked holes in the December darkness of families who were anxious about the inability to provide gifts for their children this Christmas—all it took was a little time, creativity, thoughtfulness and generosity. You poke holes in the darkness of isolation and separation felt by our brothers and sisters in Cuba when you send a team of visitors to carry your love and care. The light you bring just might make all the difference in the world to someone else.
You are lamplighters, my friends. But there may be times when you are tired of poking holes in the darkness, times when you need someone else to be the lamplighter for you. I want to encourage you to keep your eyes open for the holes that are being poked all around you, small bits of light beaming through. When your neighbor stops by unexpectedly with a little Christmas gift. When that driver DOES let you in to a steady stream of traffic on a busy road. When your new city councilman gets out and fills pot holes with the city workers! When you are surprised by generosity. When your special new Christmas dish is met with gusto and joy, and even the picky eater goes back for seconds. You don’t have to wander around in the dark. There are others who can poke holes in the darkness for you. That is what it means to be a part of a community. No matter how dark things may seem, the light of Christ can not be extinguished. Even though you walk through the darkest valley.
In a few moments I will invite you to receive the light from one neighbor and to pass it on to another neighbor. You are lamplighters with a task: poking holes in the darkness. Be committed, be strong, be constant. The light you provide might make all the difference in the world to someone else. The light God provides makes all the difference in the world. Thanks be to Christ, who is the Light of the World.