So, I'm old enough to remember going to rock concerts where fans would hold up cigarette lighters, usually during a ballad, to let the band know the crowd was there. It's an impressive spectacle to see hundreds or even thousands of tiny flames lighting up a darkened sports arena, but I never participated because I never smoked. Now that I'm old enough to own a lighter I never carry it with me, it "lives" with my grill accessories. It's probably for the best because fire marshals probably aren't too keen on thousands of people holding open-flames aloft in a crowded room. I thought such displays were relegated to a bygone era, sort of like 8-track tape players and pictures you have to drop off to be developed, but I recently saw its modern iteration.
As you probably know, our family travelled to North Carolina for the Christmas break. One of our days was spent in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to attend a basketball game between the Davidson Wildcats and the UNC Tar Heels in the Dean Dome. Now, for this Kentucky fan, going to the Dean Dome gives me an inkling of how the Apostle Paul must have felt when he stepped foot in pagan Rome but, you know, you do what you have to, to preserve familial peace - I'm kidding, it was probably more like attending worship at a church of a different denomination (I did that over the break too) - although I was pulling for Davidson. Anyway, we got our snacks and sat down to watch both teams warm up. A few minutes before tipoff the players exited the court to go back to their respective locker rooms and the cheerleaders came out to pump up the hometown crowd.
When it was time to bring the Tarheels back on the court the announcer said, "Let's stand up and make some noise!" Everyone, me included, stood. The arena lights dimmed, and some loud drum music came on the loudspeakers, the Jumbotrons started showing highlight reels from great UNC plays, and then an interesting thing happened, almost everyone around me held up their smartphone. At first, I was confused because, in the dark of a massive sports arena, a smart phone can't take a decent picture, especially of the video on a jumbotron. Then I realized that everyone had their phone's flashlight on. They were a lot like the cigarette lighters of old, except safer, everybody holding up their own little light.
And then something unexpected happened, the lights started flickering like strobes. Funny, I don't know how to make my phone do that. Then something cool happened, the strobes that had been random began to flash to a synchronized pattern and it took me a second to realize the lights were flashing in time with the music. The whole arena was participating in a coordinated light show. Somebody put a grainy cellphone video of it on YouTube if you are interested in seeing what it looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-609Te9Z9co
The woman next to me was holding up her phone so I leaned over to her and yelled, "Is that an App?"
She yelled back, "Yeah, they've got it for both Android and iPhones."
Her phone screen was facing me and I could see two emblems displayed on it. The sky-blue N.C. symbol of the school and the logo for Coca-Cola. I can only guess who paid for the development of the app - while you are holding up your phone to participate in team-spirit you are also staring at a soft drink ad for two minutes, brilliant!
Those little lights held aloft remined me a bit of Pentecost. Individually, not too bright. On more than one occasion I've gone looking for a better flashlight when the one on my phone didn't really provide enough illumination but joined together, synchronized, they can put on an impressive display.
Carrying the light of Christ is a bit like that, isn't it? We can each do our part to make the world a better place but collectively, when we're all in sync with one another we can illumine the world to God's presence among us. The main difference is that phones held aloft are linked by logarithms and cellular computer-networks; human beings are linked by the power and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we begin a new calendar year, I pray that your life will be in sync with God's rhythm and with those of the Body of Christ, the Church.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. One last thought, I AM NOT proposing we replace the tapers we use at our annual Christmas Eve Candlelight service; it might be safer but phones pulsing to "Silent Night" just seems wrong.