I always get sentimental around this time of year. As we approach the holidays I begin looking back at years past. I think of the people who have touched my life. I remember those who have gone ahead into God’s keeping. These past 20-plus months have been especially hard on so many of us. We’ve lost loved ones. There will be empty seats at our tables this year.
As a nation we have lost over 750,000 people to COVID. It is a staggering number. Nearly every family has been touched by it. It hit close to home when I received a phone call last month from my neighbor, Dr. Ralph Ellis. He shared his story of loss. Then he wondered aloud if we might do something in the community to share our solidarity with those who had lost someone in the last year.
We talked for a bit. Then he lifted up a suggestion. He asked if we could encourage people to put a candle in the window and start a wave of compassion for those who have lost a loved one. As he was speaking, the song, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn came to mind. Do you remember it? The song was from the early 1970s.
Our country was in turmoil. The Vietnam War was raging. Tensions were still high as the emotions of the Civil Rights movement were still being felt. Tony Orlando came out with this feel-good song about a man coming home from prison. He’s alone and wondering if that special someone will be there to meet him. He suggests that if she still loved him, she could tie a yellow ribbon around the tree as a sign.
The final stanza of the song still brings tears to my eyes. As he approaches his hometown, he sees not a single yellow ribbon, but a hundred yellow ribbons tied around all the trees. Just imagine what a hundred yellow candles would mean to someone driving through town who had lost a loved one over the past 20 months? It would tell them that they are not alone and that we care.
Even as people of faith, we can sometimes feel forgotten when loss hits close to home. After the funeral we are often left to fend for ourselves as everyone else returns to normal life. Friends and neighbors shy away because they don’t know what to say. Even so, God reminds us through his Word that He will never forget us or leave us.
Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” We don’t have to face life’s challenges by ourselves. God promises to be with us. He will never leave us, forsake us, forget about us, or turn His back on us. That’s his promise.
That’s the message of Christmas. The prophets told us that a child would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. He would be called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with Us.” It is the fulfillment of the promise and a reminder that even in the darkest night, a light will shine and God’s love will be revealed. So if you usually put Christmas candles in your windows, why not put a yellow bulb in one of them this year?
Let’s start a wave of compassion. Let’s remind those who have lost loved ones that we care and they have not been forgotten. Who knows? It could be the start of a new tradition in town. If you can’t find one, call me at church. We have some yellow bulbs to give away here at Central Baptist Westerly.
The Rev. Cal Lord is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Westerly.