This reflection is the second in a four-part Advent series that will be posted each Wednesday on Living Lutheran.

Light two candles. Prepare yourself to be startled by the beauty around you. Be ready to be amazed.

Lift up your eyes and look about you. (Isaiah 60:4)

We are blessed with extraordinary artists in my congregation. Every Sunday we get a Broadway song as companion to our three hymns. During Advent, we get stage designers managing the wreath and tree set-up.

One Christmas, one of our members climbed on to our steep roof and strung 1,865 red chili pepper lights down the front of the building so that they faced Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Arch. Gently gathered, one string of lights slightly crossed the other forming two upside down arcs. I was not informed of this artistic adventure until greeted by a handwritten bill for $586, which said, “Christmas lights.”

I didn’t see the exhibit until I was walking across the park, with a little snow flying about me. I looked up only to realize the two-story light exhibit on the front of the church was shaped like a woman’s breasts. I was startled.

It didn’t occur to me until later that the artist was suggesting Mary, the mother of Jesus. I asked him if I was right about that, and he just smiled and said, “Merry Christmas.” It was the softest and loudest suggestion of the Virgin I have ever imagined.

The partner of the same artist – who died unexpectedly at 56 the following year – has continued stringing red chili pepper lights around the sanctuary each Christmas. Last Christmas he added a centralizing Advent wreath, using the four pillars in our meeting room as candles. The wreath was at the center of the sanctuary and we set up chairs around it so we could be inside the wreath. Rather than simply light candles, the children lit candles placed on the pillars in what was an incredible evocation of light and fire.

Lift up your eyes and look around you!

O God, grant us the gift of lifted eyes. Let us consider the unusual, and in it, offer praise to you. Amen.

Donna Schaper
Donna Schaper is senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City.

Read more about: