I will Light Candles this Christmas

I will light candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.
~ Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman lived during the most amazing time in the history of our world. Born in 1899 in horse and buggy days and the grandson of a former slave, Thurman died in 1981, the year the IBM personal computer debuted. In 1953 Life magazine named Thurman one of the twelve greatest preachers of the century.


A Baptist pastor, Thurman led a delegation of African-Americans to India in 1935 to meet Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi’s influence led Thurman to understand Jesus as liberator and bring together the gospel and non-violence resistance to combat white racism.

As one who always sought common ground, Thurman cofounded San Francisco’s Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in 1944, the first integrated, interfaith, intercultural religious congregation in the United States. Seventy-one years later, this church is still bringing people together to worship, seek common understanding and unite together in promoting love and reconciliation.

Thurman’s theology is best represented in his most well-known book, Jesus and the Disinherited, published in 1949. The book’s thesis is that Jesus taught the “the disinherited” a faith-based, unconditional love that would enable them to not only to endure their oppression but to resist and even transform their oppressors.

From 1953 to 1965, Howard Thurman was the dean of Marsh Chapel at our United Methodist Boston University of Theology. He was the first black dean at a mostly white American university. During that time Thurman mentored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who received his PhD at Boston University in 1955. Thurman and King’s father were friends, and Thurman was often at the King home when the younger Martin was growing up.

King carried a copy of Jesus and the Disinherited while he was leading the 1955–1956 Montgomery bus boycott. Thurman also influenced Jesse Jackson, who wrote a 1982 tribute to Thurman a year after his death. Jackson said that he was attracted to Thurman, who always insisted, “If you ever developed a cultivated will with spiritual discipline, the flame of freedom would never perish.” Howard Thurman lit candles that burned all year long. Will you, too, light candles of peace for tempest-tossed days?

Sarsberella - Not just a candle. Adelaide, South Australia. web : www.Sarsberella.com.au Photos taken by Michael Kubler of Grey Phoenix Productions for more information check out www.greyphoenix.biz

In an interview shortly before his death, Thurman referred to the influence of his grandmother. “She would talk about the times when a slave preacher was permitted to hold services for the slaves of her master’s and all the neighboring plantations… She would say, ‘He would then look around to all of us in the room and then he would say, “You are not slaves, you are not niggers – you are God’s children.”’ And you know, when my grandmother said that she would unconsciously straighten up, head high and chest out, and a faraway look would come on her face.

“Now that transmitted an idiom to me. And there was nothing that could happen in my environment that could ever touch this. It gave me my identity, so I didn’t have to wait for the revolution. I have never been in search of identity.” Thirty-four years after his death, Howard Thurman’s legacy continues to burn brightly all year long, for each person is a child of God.

Thurman’s book The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations, not only contains I Will Light Candles This Christmas but also perhaps his best known poem, The Work of Christmas.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

How will you make music in the heart of our world when the work of Christmas actually begins? When the gifts are unwrapped, Christmas dinner is over and the company has gone home, how will you keep the candles burning?


P.S. The next Leading from the Heart will be published on Monday, January 4.

7 thoughts on “I will Light Candles this Christmas

  1. Oh, Laurie, thank you for this! We’re having a rough Christmas at our house, and I personally needed this reminder and encouragement.

    With your permission, I’m picking up this post for this week’s United Methodist Insight. Thanks!

    • Cynthia, I did read about your husband’s health challenges and am praying for strength for both of you during this difficult time. Thanks for picking up the post. God bless you both.

  2. LAURIE, thank you! Very meaning–filled at a most JOYOUS time of the year! Yet, so easily a time we lost much of its ‘meaning’. Hope all is well with you. Carol and I are enjoying these years together and with our Grandchildren. It was our GIFT to have met you. The best to you and all you hold dear. Carol and Greer

  3. Oh Laurie; Howard Thurman is one of my favorite authors. I love his words on Christmas. Have read them several times. Thanks Merry Christmas and A joyous new year. Love and prayers Bunny

  4. Thank you, dear Laurie.

    I have added ‘Jesus and the Disenchanted” to my reading list for 2016.

    Wishing you and Gary a very special and blessed New Year.


  5. While looking for insight on the poem written by Howard Thurman I came across your writing and I am grateful to have your remarks on the text of the poem.

    My daughter sings in the St. Olaf Choir and just recently sang “I Will Light Candles this Christmas,” composed by Kim Andre Arneson, with the text written by Howard Thurman. The world premier of his composition was just performed this month at the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. In case you have not heard this moving piece, you can listen on his website to the choir.
    You can also find a video of the St. Olaf Choir performing the piece on
    Kim André Arnesen’s Facebook page
    You can also stream the St. Olaf Christmas Festival and enjoy the entire concert!

    Blessings this Advent season!

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