“Dimly burning,” I know, doesn’t sound entirely optimistic as a name for a blog. You would think I’d rather be identified with more positive descriptors – something that would draw readers in, right? Typically we’re drawn to things and people that could be described as radiant or dazzling. But dim? Uh, not really.
I write this blog as a way to ponder and express my journey of faith in and with Jesus Christ. Of course my heart’s desire is to let my light shine, through living and writing, so that others would see Him (Matthew 5:14). But if I’m honest about my story, it should include the highlights and the, well, lowlights.
“Dimly burning” comes from a verse that has been life-changing for me – Isaiah 42:3 – “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.”
During this season I sometimes recall Christmas memories which aren’t very merry. I doubt I’ll ever forget the horrible sinking feeling I had when a child approached me at a Christmas gathering and inquired: “Why does your face look like a skeleton?” Now that’s a question you just don’t forget! The little girl wasn’t being cruel, just sincerely curious. I cringe at the pictures of myself during that Christmas because truth be told, I really did look on the verge of death’s door. And while a battle with anorexia had me barely holding onto life, I was held in shame’s firm grip.
Honestly I don’t have many clear memories of that time of my life, except for moments of severe mercy and moments of simple grace. The child’s curiosity prompted one of those severe-mercy-moments because it shocked me into the hard truth that I refused to see in the mirror.
“Dimly burning,” on the other hand, takes me back to a moment of simple grace. It was a Sunday, and my pastor at the time, Dr. Joe Brown, was preaching a sermon on the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 42:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth… Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
Dr. Brown had a lit candle on the platform, and from where I sat in the large sanctuary, it looked like a tiny flame. But Dr. Brown asked for the house lights to be lowered, and in the midst of darkness, the little light shone persistently. Unmistakably. As I watched the flame, my heart leapt with hope. Yes, my life was a picture of a candle dimly – barely – burning, but because God’s Son had come to live in my heart, I suddenly realized that the flame of His Spirit would never be snuffed out. The Holy Spirit whispered to me, “I believe in you. I will not leave you. I will keep shining in your darkness.” It was a moment of pure and simple grace. Truly I felt deserving to be extinguished. My fear and shame and failures were so painfully obvious. Many struggles can be hidden but not anorexia. And yet, the Lord spoke undeserved love and forgiveness into my life. And He promised a future and a hope. The Light of the Nations would re-kindle a spark of strength within my soul.
About the promised Messiah in Isaiah 42:3, Martin Luther said, “He does not cast away, nor crush, nor condemn the wounded in conscience, those who are terrified in view of their sins; the weak in faith and practice, but watches over and cherishes them, makes them whole, and affectionately embraces them.”
Watches over. Cherishes. Makes them whole. Affectionately embraces.
This is what He did for me. And He still does.
That painful Christmas was years ago. While an eating disorder is not my struggle anymore, there are times when I still hunger for hope. My sense of His mercy runs thin. The enemy would be well pleased for guilt, shame, and regret to smother my flame.
This morning in church, we read from John 1, and I remembered….
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (verses 1 – 5, 14).
This week comes the culmination of our Christmas celebration. All because the Word became flesh. May we never get over the why and the way of His coming.
Matthew reminds us in the twelfth chapter of his gospel. Jesus healed numbers of broken people in the large crowd that followed him, but He“warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12: 15 – 21).
Jesus could have come to our world in the company of blaring trumpets. But as Matthew Henry puts it, He came “without noise.” That is, without pomp and circumstance. Without a royal entrance. Sure, there were the earthly sounds of a barn and a baby. But we recognize Christmas as a “silent night” because of the hushed humility of His birth. And then when Jesus as He ministered to the people, the Word shows us that He did not come to boast but to bind up the broken-hearted.
“For You cause my lamp to be lighted and to shine; the Lord my God illumines my darkness.” Psalm 18:28
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
This Christmas, I pray that your hearts – be they broken or blinded, doubting or dim – draw near to the Light. He can illumine a spark of faith within you that, with the Breath of His Spirit, ignites into a flame of hope.