Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then He separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4 NLT)
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. (Harry Dixon Loes)
I was born in northern Indiana, about sixty miles south of Chicago, where the summers are blazing hot and the winters are brutally cold. At this time of year, in the autumn, the days get a little shorter, the angle of the light begins to shift against the trees, and the smell of school supplies is in the air. Pencils, and paper, and crayons and glue, and new jackets, and shoes that haven’t been scuffed just yet.
Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, but from the age of seven, he lived in Spencer County, Indiana.* When I reach back into my early childhood, at the very bud of my academic career, one of the earliest memories I have is being taught about young and honest Abe, growing up in a one-room log cabin in the wild and woolly Indiana forest.
It wasn’t so much the politician, or the orator, or the beard, or the stovepipe hat that fired my imagination, although each of those things was impressive indeed. It was the picture that I had in my little girl’s mind of a long and lanky boy, sitting near a fire next to a wooden table, studying into a dark night, lit only by the stutter of the stub of a tallow candle, in a cabin buried in snow as deep as a man stands. The dim light from that little nub of a candle just stuck in my mind, because I’ve always been a reader. I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. I pictured young Abe, serious and studious, straining to see words on worn pages, lit only by the flame of a single candle. How much he wanted to read, and how much he yearned to learn and educate himself!
Now, of course, I am no longer young, and the little girl who loved to read has become the grandma, teaching her first granddaughter that the letter A says, A – like in Apple; not in the flickering light of a precious candle, but in the icy blue glow of an ipad. (Made by a company named Apple, of which Abe never dreamed.)
Here’s the thing…it wasn’t about the light that shone from that candle, that sat on a table, in a tiny cabin in the wide, wild wood that fired Abe Lincoln’s mind, and soul and spirit. Rather, it was the light that lived inside of him, and shone out of him, that ultimately illuminated a nation.
And it’s that same light, that has been passed from generation to generation, like the flame of a candle passed from hand-to-hand and wick-to-wick at a midnight service on Christmas Eve, that has shone in the hearts of men and women throughout the ages, who have been called by the purpose of God to reflect His light to a lost and broken world.
Jesus said, Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 KJV)
* Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, www.nps.gov/libo/index.htm