Driving through the dark, cold expanse filling the Green Mountains of Vermont, travelers notice the warm glow of candles emanating from the windows of New England homes. Single candles illuminate each windowpane, offering warmth during the bitterness of freezing temperatures and snowfall.

As Missy and I arrived in Lincoln, Vermont, this month to serve the United Church of Lincoln, we quickly grew fond of those lights welcoming us home each night. Turning the corner beside the New Haven River, the candles appeared from the darkness as though they had been waiting for us to return.

The soft glow of candles dancing from the white house seemed to say, “Welcome home; we’re glad for your return.” While the south has the hospitable idiom, “We’ll leave the front porch light on for you,” something about approaching candles in a New England window speaks to the soul.

According to lore, candles in the window began before colonial times. During the persecution of Irish Catholics in the United Kingdom, Catholics would burn candles in their windows during the cold winter months to let traveling priests know the house was a safe harbor. The candles meant safety and hospitality for those facing persecution.

A candle in a house window seen from inside a room with blue walls and wooden floors.

(Photo: Mitch Randall)

The practice continued in Colonial America but evolved into letting any traveler know they could find food and shelter during the long, cold winter months. During New England winters, the sun sets between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., catching travelers by surprise as the temperatures dip well below freezing. Candles in the window meant the difference between life and death for some wayward travelers.

While Missy and I have not been concerned about freezing to death during our time in Vermont, we are starting to understand this rural community’s incredible hospitality and generosity. Each person has become a beacon of light, welcoming two wayward kids from the south with open arms.

From magically finding a clothes iron on my front porch the first night we arrived to the many dinners we’ve attended in people’s homes since then, the spirit of love found in these hills is overwhelming. And every time we make our way back after a perfect night of food and fellowship, the candles in the window are there to welcome us home.

Jesus offered this assessment of light in the Sermon on the Mount: “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, giving light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good deeds and glorify [God] in heaven” (Matthew 5:15-16).

As the winter months in New England overtake each day with darkness, the importance of light becomes more significant. While we often think the light inside a house is necessary for those safely tucked away behind the walls, the light also benefits those outside the house.

The exterior of the house in the early evening with a candle illuminating the window.

(Photo: Mitch Randall)

For those outside, the light inside a house offers warmth, guidance and direction. We never know who’s rounding the corner, striding through the cold darkness of life. Sometimes, we will never know how much that light emanating from the inside can help those wandering past us.

May we always shine the light of Jesus for others to see, demonstrating inclusion, affirmation and love to any who pass our way. May the lights in our windows communicate hospitality and generosity, all the while opening the front door for those in need of friendship.

May the lights of Jesus shine brightly from our homes, ready to welcome the stranger, offer food for the hungry, water and wine for the thirsty, and rest for the weary. May those glowing candles never fade away, forever revealing the spirit of Jesus to those that see them.

Far too many churches and people of faith have taken their candles and lamps out of their windows, replacing them with security systems of judgment and exclusion. Far too many emphasize doctrinal and political coercion rather than human decency and kindness. Far too many are more concerned about self-promotion and self-preservation rather than loving God and their neighbors.

As people of good faith, we must remember we are the world’s lights.

So, put a candle in your window tonight.

Turn on your front porch light.

Make certain your place of worship shines.

Make sure those crossing your path know they are welcome in the name of a loving and welcoming God.

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