Today is the winter
solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Though the day officially launches the season
we call winter, it curiously also marks a seemingly contradictory turning
point: as of this day in the earth’s annual trek around the sun, the Northern Hemisphere
increases its direct angle toward the sun’s rays. Consequently, here in the
north, daylight will begin to lengthen starting this very day, as will our
hemisphere’s warming, and these two phenomena will continue for the next six
months until the summer solstice in June similarly heralds a return to winter.
Of course, the opposite of these are true in the Southern Hemisphere: today is
their longest daylight of the year. (Want to see how the earth works? Click here.)
It is curious to me that
the first day of winter is also the first day of winter’s expiration, its demise.
One would think winter’s opening day would portend more of the same with
nothing to contradict it, nothing but cold, dark barrenness, bleakness, or as
the poet says, earth standing “…cold as iron, water like a stone.” We don’t
call it the ‘dead of winter’ for nothing.
But there it is, the
illogical and illuminating contradiction: light. Its return mocks
winter, scoffs at the cold, derides the bleakness. Each day that follows, the
sun rises just a little earlier and sets just a little later. Winter anticipates spring,
death foresees life, dark predestines light, cold envisages warmth: these are
the paradoxes of the seasonal change we call the winter solstice.
So it is no coincidence
that the early church chose to recognize the solstice as the most appropriate time
to celebrate the birth of Christ. Now, in actual fact, Jesus’ birth likely took
place some time during what we call October. I am not certain how that is
surmised, but it has something to do with the timing of Jewish festivals and
the typical season a census would have been called by Rome (see Luke 2:1-4),
not likely the dead of winter.
But no. Indian Summer,
beautiful as it is, just won’t do. To celebrate something as significant as the
incarnation a time is needed that makes a statement, a time that belies its
context, that refutes the cold, that calls out the stony spiritual stupor right
in the midst of its bleak midwinter and long underwear. Solstice. Now there is an appropriate time to
celebrate the Light of the world.
To celebrate something as significant as the
incarnation, a time is needed that makes a
statement, a time that belies its context, that
refutes the cold, that calls out the stony
spiritual stupor right in the midst of its
bleak midwinter and long underwear.
And so we do. We know
there is no life without light. Light begets being, a commonly known biological
The same is true in the
spirit world. St. John the Evangelist puts it this way: In him (Jesus) was
life, and that life was the light for humanity. The light shines in the
darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5) Or later,
sharing the very words of Jesus himself, he writes, And Jesus spoke to them saying,
“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but
will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). Or take it all the way back
to a prophet hundreds of years before Christ. Anticipating the coming Messiah, Isaiah foretold: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)
Light dispels darkness, not the other way 'round. Open a door into a dark closet and what happens? Does the darkness come creeping into the room in which you stand? No, the opposite holds, and always will. Light trumps darkness.
So, solstice is here. I look forward to it not only because of Christmas but because it heralds the return of summer. Celebrate the light with me. Proclaim the truth of the Christmas carol:
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris'n with healing in His wings.
(from Hark, The Herald Angels Sing
by Charles Wesley, 1739)
Or, if you prefer, fast forward to Bing Crosby (1963):
The child, the child, sleeping in the night:
He will bring us goodness and light.
Let there be light!
~~RGM, from an earlier journal entry
that I wrote on December 21, 2012