Friday, December 9, 2011
From Darkness to Growing Light
December may be the most ambiguous month of the year. Christmas is coming, and from malls to television we experience invitations to make the season “magical,” whatever that might be. We look forward to gatherings of family and friends with everything from high anticipation to outright dread. And then there’s the dark. Some of us actually suffer physically, something called “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” appropriately abbreviated as SAD. Along with the dark, the creeping cold as we transition to winter can feel downright claustrophobic.
Some years the contrast between the expected celebration and jollity and the lack of daylight and warmth is more pronounced than others. Troubled economic times, concerns for the health or wellbeing of loved ones, anxiety on behalf of friends or family deployed with the military, can make “The Holidays” a difficult time of the year. However, there is a hidden parable in the very contrasts of the season.
Just when it seems that the dark and cold will overpower the world, the days begin to lengthen. At first it is barely perceptible, but as Advent yields to Christmas, and Christmas finds its fullness in Epiphany, day by day the light of the sun lasts longer and grows brighter. It means winter will not last forever, and no matter how long it may take, spring will come.
This lengthening of days is a kind of nod from nature, echoing the proclamations of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany: however deep the darkness of the world, God is ultimately in control. Though it may take a long time, the Light that pierced the darkness in Bethlehem is spreading out, and will ultimately claim the day. Several of the psalms urge us to look to the things of nature for hints of God’s relation to the world and to us. “The heavens are telling the glory of God...There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth...” (Psalm 19:1, 3, 4)
So it is that at this time of year the change in the days tells us some important things. It tells us that though the dark and the cold may touch our lives and the lives of those we care about, the warmth has the edge on the ice. It reminds us of the times we have seen the power of God’s love melt the ice that imprisons hearts and poisons relationships. As we move into January and February, the added height of the sun will shine on places that were all shadows in December, reminding us that the Light of Jesus Christ illuminates the dark and hidden places where minds close down, and ignorance passes for realism.
Such revelations are important, because they contradict the attitudes, so common in our day, that tell us the world is a hard and cruel place without meaning or hope. And that brings us to our call as Christians, and the job of the Christian Church. We are called by Jesus to stand for the idea that, in the end, God is in charge of this world. We are called to be reminders that God so loved the world that he sent his Son, not to condemn the world, but to initiate God’s plan to restore it and make it new. That will not be simple, and we will never get it perfectly. Jesus warned us that the world would not appreciate hearing his message. Indeed, he said powerful interests have a big stake in suppressing it. Paul went a step further, and said that we must be willing to look foolish by the world's standards, if in the end we hope to be found wise by God’s standards, but that God is able to receive even our feeblest attempts and bring amazing things out of them.
May we heed the parable of the change of days. May we embrace God's foolishness and open ourselves anew to the wonder of the season. May it fill our hearts, our minds, our worship, our acts of service and our lives!
Howard H. MacMullen, Jr.
© December, 2011