I took down the Christmas tree tonight. Shiny ornaments and cute ceramic figures got tucked away into the boxes for another year. As I was unwinding the lights from the tree, I noticed that one was burnt out. As I continued to unwind the bulbs, I noticed two or three more. It was odd to me. I didn't notice them while the tree was up. The light from all the other bulbs were too bright. The burnt out bulbs didn't stand out at all compared to the colorful illumination from all its neighbors. Of course, as I unplugged each string, all the bulbs went dark, so it was difficult to tell the difference between the other colors. And, of course, it was impossible to tell which bulb was the burnt out one.
As I was winding them up on the cardboard piece, a curious analogy struck me. Each of these strings of lights could represent a church. Each color shone with a different light, and each string had different shaped bulbs. Each bulb may have been a member of a different string, but each shone just as brilliantly as the rest. The same could apply to the different churches. Each church has different members, and may have their own sets of beliefs. But if each member shines with the light of Christ - the teachings of Christ and the example that He left for us - then they all could shine just as brightly, all unified in brotherhood and sisterhood to serve as a testimony of God's love for all of us.
But what about the burnt-out bulbs? They don't shine, do they? I'm sure that many of us can think of how that analogy could work. Those are the members who attend church, but don't really live by the principles revealed in the scriptures. They may be "cafeteria Christians," who pick and choose the portions of the Bible that they like, and try to ignore the rest of it. They go through the motions - especially on Sundays - but really don't seem to be living by Christ's examples. They don't let the light of Christ shine in their lives, and it could be because they don't really have the light of Christ in the first place.
What would happen if you had a string of lights where hardly any of the bulbs worked? More than half of the string was dead. Would you take the time to replace every single bulb? Or would you simply toss it away? I had the thought occur to me that my wife and I experienced this a few years ago, when we were looking for a church to belong to. We attended several of them in the area where we lived, but none of them really seemed to fit. None of them had the feeling of the Holy Spirit in them. The members were friendly and welcoming. We even were invited to some of their church activities, and attended a few of them. But we went there spiritually hungry... and we went away feeling unfulfilled. It didn't occur to me at the time, but now it seems clear. Those other churches were like the strings of lights with several dead bulbs. Sure, the bulbs looked nice and fancy... but very few of them truly shone with the light of Christ.
What about you, reading this? Have you considered how you shine with the light of Christ? Do you strive to live by Christ's example? Or do you simply go through the motions, do your duty, and live however you want to the other six days of the week? When others see you, do they see Him in you? Or in your actions? Consider Matthew 5:14-16 - "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." After all, if others are considering your church to attend, would you like them to see the light of Christ in you and the other members of your church? Or do you want them to see a bunch of dim or dead bulbs, encouraging them to turn away and look elsewhere for the spiritual light that they seek?
The decorations are all boxed up and the light put away. But that doesn't mean the illumination is gone. We should all strive to remember the light of Christ in our everyday lives. We've taken upon ourselves the name of Christ, to strive to live by his example. Let's shine as brilliantly as we can, so others can see Christ's light through us.