Today I would like to introduce you to a little-known Christmas carol called “The Christmas Candle.” Its lyrics were written a century ago by an American poet named Anna Hempstead Branch. These lyrics were set to music by another female American, a composer named Roberta Bitgood, in 1937.

I discovered this carol when Tara and I sang it with the church choir at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bay City during their Christmas concert this past Sunday afternoon. I can’t find an online recording of the carol for you to listen to, so we’ll have to make do with just the lyrics. But they are powerful enough by themselves. Read them slowly, thoughtfully, carefully:

Come, heavenly Child, and on this place
Shed the sweet halo of Thy grace.
O burning Love, O heavenly Fire,
Consume me with Thy deep desire.

As in the holy Christ Child’s Name
This blessed wax shall feed the flame,
So let my heart its fires begin
And light the heavenly Pilgrim in.

This short poem is almost mystical in how it discusses the connection between Jesus and the individual believer. What I love about this carol is how effortlessly it blends together three things: the arrival of Jesus, personal transformation, and an actual wax candle.

Christmas is a season full of candles and lights. We string electric lights on Christmas trees and houses. We light candles at Christmas Eve services. We yearn for displays of light during the darkest season of the year.

But consider what happens with a wax candle when its wick is lit. The wax slowly melts – it’s not a fast process, or else the candle would not be of much use! As the wax melts, the wick draws the wax upward. The wax is then vaporized by the heat and ignited by the flame, and the process continues. More and more of the wax is melted, absorbed, vaporized, and burned away. A wax candle quite literally gives itself away by yielding to the flame. The candle participates with the flame in creating light and warmth for everyone in the area.

God’s love, God’s fire, God’s desire for humanity is made visible at the birth of Jesus (and, indeed, throughout his life and ministry). God is the source of light for the world.

And God invites us to participate in the creation of something beautiful. Just as the wax of a candle is slowly melted and given away to feed the flame, so too our hearts can be warmed by God’s love, slowly melted, and given away as fuel for the flame.

But watch this: In a mysterious way, when God’s love fills our hearts, this lights the way for the heavenly Pilgrim to come even further into our hearts. Jesus, the heavenly Pilgrim, stirs us to give our hearts to God, and when we do, Jesus is able to come further in. It’s a beautiful feedback loop of spiritual life. And unlike a wax candle, whose flame dies when the wax runs out, the flame of God’s love will never cease to burn, no matter what happens to us.

Friends, as we enter into the Christmas season, welcome the heavenly Christ Child into your lives. Allow his love to melt your hearts. Join with him in creating something beautiful: light and warmth for everyone to experience, and so to be drawn toward God, which is God’s great desire.

Leave a Reply