The Darkest Night of the Year

My crayon sketch of Bethlehem at night, Christmas Eve 1994

My crayon sketch of Bethlehem at night, Christmas Eve 1994

Originally published in 2006 as part of the Greenhaus Community’s Advent Calendar

The Winter Solstice and Advent

On December 22nd, in Boston, the sun will rise at 7:11 a.m. and set at 4:15 p.m. It is said that the ancient people watched the nights lengthening, and feared that the sun was dying. Even in our modern times, when we think we understand the movement of the earth and sun, we cannot help but feel oppressed by the encroaching darkness. We have even given this oppression a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder. The ancients offered sacrifices to the sun, we take anti-depressants and buy full spectrum light bulbs. But every year, the sun returns. It rises earlier and sets later each day, even as the winter weather worsens. Somehow, we are saved from the darkness.

The early Christians understood the deep truth behind this salvation. Jesus was probably not born in December – most scholars suggest April as a more likely month. But the Christians understood that there was more to the ancient myths than superstition. The darkening earth reminds us of the darkness of our souls without God. And that is why the shortest days of the year are the perfect time for the season of Advent. Advent means “coming,” – the coming of Christ – and the twenty four days before Christmas are a time of preparation for this coming. As the days shorten, our spirits tell us that without some intervention, we will be lost in the darkness. But that intervention has been given. Christ has come! “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light/ The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” ~from O Little Town of Bethlehem

That is why, in the midst of the darkness of Apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was able to proclaim,

Goodness is stronger than evil,
love is stronger than hate,
light is stronger than darkness,
life is stronger than death,
victory is ours through him who loved us.