David C. Scott is Emeritus Professor of religion and culture at United Theological College, Bangalore, India. Born in India the son of United Methodist missionaries, Dr. Scott received his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary, New York City, and his Ph.D. in South Asian Religions at the University of Wisconsin. He is ordained in the United Methodist Church and has a distinguished career teaching in India at Lucknow Christian College, Lucknow; the Christian Retreat and Study Centre, Rajpur; Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur; and most recently in Bangalore. He is author of several books, the most recent being Re-Visioning India’s Religious Traditions (ed.), Bangalore: United Theological College, 1996.
The article appeared in the Christian Century magazine March 1, 1995, pp. 239 – 242. Copyright by The Century Foundation, used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at http://www.christiancentury.org. Article prepared for Religion Online by John Bushell.
Can it be that through the festivals of non-Christians, Christians are prepared by God to worship and adore the true Light which enlightens everyone?
Text: "The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world." John 1:9
While the first Sunday in Advent is not until November 30th, many Christians in India begin to think about and prepare for Christmas in October. That is when a majority of Indians (who are Hindus) observe two significant festivals, Dussera and Diwali. Dussera celebrates the victory of the power of God over evil in our world. Diwali is the festival of lights, welcoming the Light into our dark world, which cannot overcome it (Jn.1:5). The symbolism of this festival is the more powerful because of its immensely charming beauty. On two successive moonless nights every Hindu family decorates its house and court- yard with hundreds of little clay oil lamps, much like those used in Jesus' Palestine. Following local custom, we have adapted the traditional Western Advent wreath by using little clay lamps arranged on a large brass tray, all of which are available in the nearby bazar.
Here is one of the wonderful things about living in this incredible Indian culture, with its rich variety of religious traditions - one of the many gifts God gives to God's people. Can it be that through the festivals of others, we Christians are prepared by God to worship and adore the true Light which enllightens everyone, the Light which shines in the darkness, which the darkness cannot overcome? Are we not constrained to affirm that wherever we find light shining in the darkness, this is the Light which enlightens everyone?
Too long have we Christians called the things of others unclean, ungodly. Perhaps God is giving us a vision, similar to the one the apostle Peter experienced while praying on the Joppan rooftop. Before Peter was ready to share his faith with others, God had to teach the self-righteous disciple that he must not call unclean or common what God counts clean (Acts 10:9-16).
What a marvelous Indian Advent, preparing for Emmanuel -- Christ with us -- in India, the Light of the world which enlightens everyone!