From time immemorial people have gathered around campfires, fireplaces, and stoves for warmth and light. And the fire has been the center of community, whether of family, friends, or strangers crossing paths on the way. Before central heating, the hearth was the heart of any home.
One of my favorite paintings of the Nativity is ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ long attributed to Rembrandt, but now thought to be by one of his students. In the painting, Jesus, lying in the manger, glows with warmth and light. Mary and Joseph are illuminated as they kneel near the holy Baby. Shepherds and others are gathered around Jesus as if drawing near to a fire to escape the gloomy cold of night.
Whether or not Jesus actually glowed with light and warmth, the painting points to the understanding that Jesus is the light of the Truth and the warmth of the Love at the heart of everything. He is the fire in the equation of reality enfleshed to reveal the truth of who we are and who we are meant to be as beings created in the image of God. He embodied the love that is lived within the Holy Trinity from eternity.
On Christmas, the manger became the hearth of the world bearing the light and love of God into this cold and gloomy world. There is goodness and beauty in the world for sure. And in each of us. But there is also the gloom of ignorance, dishonesty, prejudice, and greed. There is the coldness of selfishness, division, meanness, and violence. Increasingly, we are disconnected, isolated, anxious, fearful, and lonely. At Christmas we are reminded that One has come to invite us to gather together out of the gloomy cold and draw near the Fire that he is to be enlightened and warmed by his truth and love.
In the coming year, may our congregations glow with the light and love of Jesus. May each member bear that light and love into the anxious, lonely, divided world around us. May we better see others in the light of God’s love. May we especially bear that love to those who the world pushes into the shadows. Maybe part of our vocation as disciples of Jesus in these times is to be connectors – to remind ourselves and others of the truth that we belong to one another and to engage with others regardless of affinity or agreement. By doing so, we can take the light and warmth we have experienced from the Hearth to the hearts of those we encounter.