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The Coming Light 22 December 2016

Posted by Dr Moose in Advent, Faith, Life, Theology.
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One thing I’ve have learnt over the years is that I’m definitely a morning person. It’s not as if I go into hiding as soon as the sun sets, or have the urge to go to bed early. It’s not even that I can’t function in the evenings or still do useful things. I do know though, that I’m at my best for writing and creativity in the mornings. Morning not just by what the clock says though: morning as judged by the light levels. Most of the year my radio-alarm is set for 6.28am, primarily to allow me to help get the family up, and the Good Lady Wife is most definitely not a morning person. Much of the year I’m happy to be awake even earlier, with the sun (which still seems to circumvent the heavy, lined, bedroom curtains). While on Sabbatical this summer and staying at Ampleforth Abbey up near York rising to join the monks for the first service of the day at 6am was remarkably easy, but come the winter, come the dark, it becomes far more of a trial, when I rise long before the sun.

advent-candle-smallThe alignment of Christmas, and the nativity of the Christ-child, with the darkest time of the year is no accident. In the Christian meta-narrative, the campaign arc of salvation, the date of Jesus’ birth is unimportant, and is in fact unknown. The choice of December 25th is a convention and a convenience, a plot device from the Church to co-opt existing pattern and steal a march on other mythical and religious opponents (such as the Unconquerable Sun and Mithras), rather than a matter of dogma, or even doctrine. The fact of the birth is the important event, not the time. The placement in the depths of winter gives the nativity a powerful symbolic value, the birth of the divine light, incarnate in Jesus, into the dark of the world, moral, spiritual and literal.

My Facebook feed of late has been full of Winter Solstice greetings. For me it’s sacred only as a calendrical pointer to the growing natural light, as the hours of night begin to recede once more and the hours of light increase apace. Since the word ‘sacred’ references something set apart from other more mundane concerns, I can happily call the Winter Solstice sacred. (Given my preference for light, no Sith Lord I, the Summer Solstice holds far less attraction: the bittersweet summit before the inevitable descent!)

I’m increasingly aware of the apparent growth in numbers of people around me who celebrate the Winter Solstice either for it’s own sake as an excuse for a party or festival free of God-bothering in any shape or form, or as part of a neo-pagan movement harkening back to roots, which as a Christian minister, I feel are of dubious provenance. This doesn’t stop me wishing them blessings any more than my opinion of Islam doesn’t prevent me wishing Muslim friends the blessings of the two Eids. I just don’t think that of themselves they have particular salvific value. I should also note that this increase seems primarily manifested in my social media feeds, which are shouldn’t be taken as representative of the wider whole. After all I suspect that quite a large minority of the general population haven’t taken the time to even ponder the question about whether December 25th might not be the literal birthday of Jesus.

The certain truth remains, that just as the hope of greater physical light has dawned and the Winter Solstice passed, so we draw near to the symbolic arrival of the Light that had come into the world, even if the darkness cannot understand it (with a nod in the direction of John 1:5).

So nearly there. O come, O come, Immanuel!

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