December 13, 2010

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for your welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 29:11-14a

Another national park with luminarias!

Last Thursday evening, Mesa Verde set out sand-and-candle-filled bags during its annual holiday open house. Luminarias line the trail from the Chapin Mesa headquarters area to Spruce Tree House, the park’s third largest (and best preserved) Pueblo Indian cliff dwelling, and visitors can take a ranger-led tour to see them. Other activities include musical entertainment, refreshments and stargazing.

I read about this in the current issue of National Geographic Traveler, which carries a cool photo of the light show.

According to FLIC Luminaries’ history page, tradition says that these lights lit the way for Mary and Joseph as they searched for lodging before Jesus’ birth. Some believe it goes back even further, to Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. (By the way, did you know the Bible indicates Jesus celebrated Hanukkah? See John 10:22, 23.)

Spanish settlers introduced farolitos, or little lanterns, in the sixteenth century, lighting small bonfires along roads and in churchyards to commemorate Christ’s birth (it’s a big tradition in Mexico). The Pueblos set fires to show the way to church on Christmas Eve. German and French immigrants in Louisiana set huge blazes along the Mississippi River in the 19th century to “guide” Pa Pa Noel, the Acadian version of Santa, to their houses. In Europe, many people use luminarias around January 6, the Festival of the Three Kings, signifying the lighting of the way of the wise men to Jesus.

Gradually, in this country, people began hanging Chinese lanterns in their doorways instead of building bonfires. Then they started using paper bags as a less expensive alternative.

The underlying theme of the luminaries is that of seeking and searching, which is really the theme of Christmas, too. Jesus declared His sole purpose of coming was to “seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).

And that would be you and me.

We don’t look for God on our own. Each of us is consumed with one thing: ourselves. “The Lord looks down from heaven…to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God,” David laments in Psalm 14. “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (vv. 2, 3).

So God had to come looking for us.

And He did, subjecting Himself to all the restraints and limitations of human form, becoming just like us (Philippians 2:7, 8), even experiencing the same temptations we have (Hebrews 4:15), while at the same time retaining His sinless deity (Hebrews 1:3).

Even now, after His earthly mission is done, He doesn’t keep us at arms’ length. He arranges our existence, from where we live to our lifespan, so that we have opportunity to seek and find Him since “He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17: 26, 27). He gives us Scripture, “a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path” (Psalm 119:105). And He guarantees that He will be found when we search for Him with our whole hearts. As Moses marveled, “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7).

Luminarias are wonderful, especially during this dark time of the year. Enjoy them wherever you find them this season. And let their welcoming glow remind you of the Savior who looks for you every day of the year.

Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light, to herald our salvation;
He stoops to earth—the God of might, our hope and expectation.
He comes in human flesh to dwell, our God will us, Immanuel,
The night of darkness ending, our fallen race befriending.

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