Dear First Pres,

   What marks the presence of the Christmas season to you? Christmas Tree Lane has become one of my favorite traditions here in Fresno. The most amazing part of the experience is seeing and hearing the excited little ones. There is curiosity, wonder, and joy in their squeals, pointing and sudden stopping. Walking the lane provides ample opportunity for a treasured hobby of mine - that's right: PEOPLE WATCHING. I love witnessing the diversity of people who enjoy walking the lane in their various ages, cultures and intentions, from families to couples, to groups of students enjoying their independence. 
   And what is with these Christmas lights that so captivate our attention? We are drawn to the light in the midst of darkness. We are enthralled by the sparkling and creativity of these lights that bring about a sweet sense of beauty and mystery. There is even comfort in the light. As someone who was scared of the dark even into my twenties, I can testify to the sense of peace that comes from being in the presence of light. 
   And yet my heart becomes heavy as I wonder which of these people has fully experienced the true joy and hope of knowing Jesus, the real reason for celebration. My heart breaks with those who are grieving in the midst of this holiday season. I'm reminded of my own childhood in which my single mom worked long hours in hopes of a good Christmas, and how often we didn't fully appreciate the effort. There are people who are separated from their loved ones whether physically, such as those who are in prison, geographically, or emotionally by depression, anxiety, or broken relationships. How can there be such joy and excitement and hurt and brokenness all wrapped up in this season? 
   Then I am reminded of the great hope found in John 8:12, "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."
   Jesus' mystery is revealed as the true light that captivates, reconciles, transforms and provides life. Jesus is the very present light in the midst of darkness and pain. He is not distant or far off, but instead close and near to all. As we follow after Jesus, he expunges the darkness, the fear, the loneliness, the guilt, the shame, the brokenness. Not that we are free from the very reality of pain and death today, but there is an everlasting hope and joy knowing that we are not facing it alone.
   My prayer is that you know this: Love has come down and there is joy in seeking after the light of Jesus. As you enjoy the sparkle of Christmas lights may you be reminded of God's goodness and may God meet you where you are today, in the joys and the pains. May we experience and receive the great love and grace of Jesus. And may we be lights who are present in the midst of darkness to our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors

May Our Light Shine,