When we talk about tangled Christmas lights, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room - sometimes, it almost feels worth it to give up on untangling them entirely and just plug them in and let them fall where they may. Sometimes, it seems almost worth it to just hang a blob of tangled lights on the door and call it a day.
Hey, it's still light, right? It's still in the spirit of the season.
There's no easy way out for the church. There's no lazy man's fellowship. There's no "this will do" or "this will be good enough" or "at least it's light" because when you hang a big blob of tangled lights on the door, all you really do is illuminate your mess.
It's not breathtaking. It's not beautiful. It's not enticing. It's a mess, and everyone knows it. In fact, those passing by may chuckle a little bit, but in their heart, they feel sorry for you.
There's a lot of folks feeling sorry for the church.
This goes back to what we were talking about on Monday - that your light only shines bright if you work to make sure none of your bulbs go out. When you hang up a tangled mess, it says something. And what it says is, we're not really interested in working on ourselves. And what the world senses is what we might call the "hard sell" - we push Jesus at all costs, even if it's not particularly beautiful and we're not doing a very good job of faithfulness ourselves. It's the over-aggressive salesman who you know is just trying to seal the deal. He's so fast-talking, you know he's hiding something or else, he just doesn't care much at all, and the whole thing feels like a sham.
In tangled lights, the church feels like a sham.
A lot of churches are not willing to put the pause on their plans to work on their own fellowship, and this is to the detriment of the church as a whole - not just a single congregation, but to the witness of God everywhere. For some reason, we're afraid to stop doing the things we're doing that we think are our "mission" work or our "real" work and take the time to focus inwardly and fix our fellowship.
A great many churches have crumbled from the inside while they had their hands busy in the world. Even doing what we would have to admit were very good things.
And I know that it feels like a losing battle. If, as we said yesterday, we're always going to be tangled, how do we balance working on ourselves and shining our light? How do we know when we're at the point where it's time to just hang the lights up...and how do we know when we'd only be illuminating our mess?
We're not saying that the church has to be perfect before she can shine her light. That's not it at all. If we were waiting for that, then none of us would ever do anything. But there are ways that we can set ourselves up so that our process is just as clear as our light. So that our neighbors who are watching can see us hanging up our lights, stringing out. Forming an assembly line where a little bit more is untangled at a time until we stretch out all across our community. There's a way for us to live where the world can see us doing the work at the very same time that we are shining our lights. It's called transparency. Authenticity. A confessional community. And this should be the aim of all of us.
There's no shame in tangled lights. It happens. But there is great shame in hanging out our tangled lights and trying to call them beautiful just because, perhaps, they do still light up.
Jesus said the world will know us - and Him - by how we love one another. That is our first and primary function. Untangling our lights is priority number one. It is our greatest witness in the world, no matter what else we may ever do or how much else we may try to stamp Jesus's name on. First and foremost, we are to love one another.
And that means we never just give up and settle for the blob.