December 14, 2019
“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again” – Paul Simon
“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”
It is now 1:57 AM, and I am up and awake. The neighborhood sleeps fitfully. The moon is only two days past full, and it illuminates our bedroom through the skylight. Shocky is lying on the couch behind me. If I’m up, she’s up. Dogs are loyal like that.
This is a dark time of year, and it is getting darker. I look forward to the winter solstice. Then the light will grow again. I used to work nights. I did that for many years. I remember waiting for the sunrise in wintertime. The world didn’t get any warmer once the sun peeked over the horizon, but somehow I felt better.
Christmas is coming too. I read that “the Romans first linked Christmas with the solstice. They pegged the event to December 25th because, since 43 BC, this date was the winter solstice in the Julian calendar.” (Sarah Woodbury)
Christmas is a profoundly pagan festival, despite what some Christians might say. I don’t have a problem with that. The pagans were (and are) deeply concerned with the winter solstice. Their practices and rituals always pertain to light and warmth. Our customs at Christmas do the same. For the most part, we have just Christianized traditions that were already ancient when Jesus was born. What are Christmas lights for, if not to keep the darkness at bay?
My wife, being from Germany, insists our putting real candles on a real Christmas tree. We turn off all of the lights in the house, and then we light the candles, and we hope that the house doesn’t burn down. The fact is that those flickering candles on the tree shine brightly in the darkness, and they are comforting in a way that is warm and gentle.
The story of the Christ Child is essentially a story about divine warmth and love penetrating our human world. It is about God coming into our lives at the moment of greatest darkness. God doesn’t come to curse the darkness. God comes to change it.
I worked with a man who told me that Christmas should be called “Commerce Day.” He may have been right. I find it difficult to get into the holiday spirit when the biggest news is that consumers spent 7.4 billion dollars online on Black Friday. That means that Christmas is mostly about materialism and greed. That is a darkness lodged in the human heart, and it is deeper than the physical darkness of the season.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to encourage retail sales and to promote a heroic sort of capitalism. He came to enable us to see and feel the good that is our world. He came to transform the darkness and the cold that lies within us.