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Light candles rather than curse darkness

Amnesty InternationalWriting on Human Rights Day, Rev Philip Young encourages us to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela by bringing light in the darkness and supporting the work of Amnesty International.

‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’

I am writing this on Human Rights Day the 10th December 2013.  Just a few days ago a hero of human rights, Nelson Mandela, died, aged 95, on the 5th of December 2013.
Possibly Nelson Mandela was the greatest leader in human rights that has ever lived. I love the saying, ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’ and this would be a fitting epitaph to this great human being.
Nobody is sure where this saying originates, although it is associated with another great human being, John F. Kennedy, who we are remembering, as it is 50 years since his assassination on 22nd November 1963.  The saying was first spoken publicly on Human Rights Day 1961 by Peter Benenson the English lawyer and founder of Amnesty International.  The image of a candle wrapped about with barbed wire has become Amnesty’s symbol.
In recognition of Nelson Mandela and to celebrate his life let us all be activists and fighters for human rights.  One of the ways you could do this is by supporting Amnesty International.  They do wonderful work campaigning for people who are in prison for their political or religious beliefs who are also committed to using non-violence, and so are called Prisoners of Conscience.
As mid-winter and Christmas approach the symbol of the light shining in the darkness becomes ever more powerful.  I love all the candles at this time of year. I love it when our churches are lit by candlelight alone.
I am reminded of the first chapter of John’s Gospel which tells us of the coming of Jesus, the Word made flesh, and we read, ‘What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’
When we campaign for human rights we are doing God’s work for he does not want one of his creatures to be in a dark and terrifying place.  Nelson Mandela was 27 years in prison and what a joy it was when he was released and led South Africa on the road to peace and reconciliation.
Our work as God’s children is to carry on the work of Jesus who was sent ‘to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free’ (Luke 4:18).
Another of my favourite quotes is one by Martin Luther King Jnr. who said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Paul in Romans writes: ‘The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light’.  It is God’s work to clothe us with light so that we too, like Jesus, can be the light of the world for we are children of the light.
Let the light shine brightly in our lives because, as Nelson Mandela said on receiving the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in 2006: “As long as poverty, injustice and inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest”.
We can however be assured that, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1:5).

Amnesty International campaigns for Human Rights and can be found at www.amnesty.org.uk

Rev Philip Young is the Norwich Diocesan Environmental Officer for the Church of England. He is also a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and a Novice of the Third Order of Franciscans. His work for the Norwich Diocese is part time.  The rest of his time he reads and writes on spiritual matters. He is available to give talks, presentations or to preach and can be contacted at philip.young@norwich.anglican.org.

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