I love looking at neighborhood lights. Doesn't make much difference if it is over-sized and gaudy reindeer scenes or a subtle and classy one-candle-per-window display.
The irreverent thought about neighborhood lights is this: I like to think of them as little "up yours" to darkness.
It's no coincidence people put lights on their houses this time of year: December 21 is the shortest day (i.e., the longest night) of the year. Each day since what, June, there's been a little more darkness and a little less light. These lights seem to say "enough is enough, I miss the light, and if mother nature won't bring it earlier, we will!"
It's as though we're fighting back, saying, "give it your best shot, Daylight Saving Time! Bring it on, darkness, sadness, despair, hopelessness. I'm putting LIGHTS on out there!"
One evening late last week, I was out walking the dog and I noticed a house that had all these luminaries set along their front sidewalk. I thought maybe they were having a party that night -- that the family had put them out there for a special occasion. But a week later, they're still there, and all lit up, and presumably have been each night. I got to thinking: the root of the word "luminary" is "lumen" from which we get "illuminate." And that family wants to illuminate things. They want to bring light into the darkness.
Which brings me to the reverent thought: did you know the Gospel of John doesn't give us the Christmas birth story we're accustomed to -- you know the one where we get Mary and Joseph in the manger and the shepherds and angels and all? The Gospel of John doesn't give us a baby Jesus at all.
Rather, it starts out "in the beginning," and we're told that in the beginning, there was The Word. This Word was with God and was, in fact, God. And the Word -- Jesus -- is described as coming into the world this way:
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
These are SO much more than lights in a front yard.
They are a "primal yalp" from those of us created in the image of God saying, "up yours, darkness! Let there be light."
They're a reminder that when the days are shortest and the darkness lasts the longest, God, and God's people say, "let light shine."