The flame touched the white wick, which immediately grew black and began to glow on its own.
Even as the source was taken away, the candle flickered persistently. And although almost imperceptible, the room had just become a little bit brighter.
The light of hope has that effect on dark situations.
Vedran Smailovic kindled a kindred flame, but instead of a match, his was started with a bow.
In 1992, Vedran was the principal cellist for a local opera house in war-ravaged Sarajevo, horrors mirrored by the present-day atrocities unfolding from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Fighting had devastated the Balkan region and Sarajevo especially. Automatic weapons fire, bombs and explosions were an everyday occurrence.
In the spring of 1992, most of the storefronts had been closed, but one bakery was still making bread so there was a long line out the door and into the street. At 4 p.m. one day, a shell exploded right in the middle of that bread line, and 22 people were killed instantly.
Paul Sullivan writes in Hope Magazine that Vedran Smailovic lived nearby, and he had hoped to return to his old life of concerts and comfort.
But when he saw the carnage that day outside his window, he was pushed beyond his capacity to absorb and endure any more. He resolved to do the thing he could do best. Every day thereafter, at 4 p.m., Vedran put on his full, formal concert attire, took up his cello, and walked out of his apartment into the battle raging around him. He placed a little stool in the blood-stained, glass-splattered crater where the shell had landed, and every day, for 22 days, he played Albinoni’s Adagio as tribute to the 22 dead. Snipers were perched on the nearby hills, mortar shells fell all around him, but he played that music to the abandoned streets, the smashed trucks, the burning buildings and to the terrified people still hiding in the cellars, who heard him.
People said Smailovic was crazy, playing a cello in the middle of bombs and bullets. He countered that war was crazy. How else could death and destruction become acceptable while music and memorials became asinine?
And so his melodies sparked hope among his countrymen — hope that beauty might be found even among the ashes, that possibility might arise from pain and that life might return in spite of the odds.
It was into a similarly oppressive situation that the light of hope would ignite 2,000 years ago. It had been anticipated for centuries, but they never anticipated this spark would start in a stable.
And although imperceptible to almost everyone, the world had just become a little bit brighter with nascent light flickering persistently, extinguishing darkness with dawning one heartbeat at a time.
The apostle John reminds us: The light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out. (John 1:5, Phillips)
So the first candle of advent is always Hope, lit to defy the darkness and remind us that Hope illuminates our way.
May your steps to the stable this Christmas be secure as you are drawn toward the Light of Hope sleeping in the straw.
Dr. Steve Cothran lives in Newnan and has been a Baptist youth pastor for over 30 years.