The darkness is deepest during these weeks, for us in the northern hemisphere. Dusk comes in the late afternoon. The sun rises 14 hours later.
For some ancient European peoples, the winter solstice was an important time of religious rituals, encouraging the sun to return. One theory why December 25 was chosen as the date to celebrate the birth of Christ is because the Christ followers co-opted a pagan festival already established on that date! (According to the calendar then in use, that was the date of the winter solstice.) How appropriate to take over that date to celebrate the true light – the Light of the world!
“What has come into being in him (the logos-Christ) was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” This, according to the gospel of John.
Light in the darkness is an important image in the liturgical calendar at this time of year. Light is prominent in the Christmas and Epiphany stories: the bright light of the glory of the Lord shining before the shepherds in the gospel of Luke; the star that the wise men followed in the gospel of Matthew. During these weeks of the greatest darkness, we celebrate the birth of Christ, the light of the world. The 12 Days of Christmas bring us to the Epiphany, on January 6, the arrival of the Magi bearing gifts for the Christ child.
An epiphany is an instance of something becoming clear; something that was once confusing but is no longer perplexing. It’s kind of like when you’re stumbling over furniture in the dark in an unfamiliar room – until you turn on a lamp. There’s clarity of sight in the light! During the season of Epiphany, which lasts through January and into February, we are invited to come to greater clarity about who this Christ is. (A couple of weeks ago, one of our Preschool children was identifying the people in his drawing: “This is Joseph, and this is Mary, and this is baby God.” That’s pretty good clarity! During chapel times in January it’ll be interesting to see how I might work with this with the children.)
Blessings to you during these weeks of darkness. Be gentle with yourselves, patient, grace-filled. Welcome into your lives the light that is Christ. And let me know if I can be helpful to you.
Rich blessings to you –
Pastor Andy Ballentine