Shortly after midnight I woke up and noted a creamy blue-white beam on our bedroom floor. I got up to look at the moon through the skylight and saw a brilliant center of light refracting off the glass--droplets of light moving into the edges, pushing back the dark. December's full moon. Light piercing the darkness.
We are in our annual dark days in Earth's journey around the Sun. On December 22nd the northern hemisphere reaches its furthest point away from the Sun--our longest night.
Then--in an instant--we touch the Winter Solstice and round the bend that tilts the northern hemisphere back toward the great, warming, life-sustaining star that is our Sun.
Every year I note (with gladness) that we celebrate the birth of Jesus just as our neck of planetary woods has begun its journey toward the Light. We get six months to bask in lengthening days with ever more Light.
Yet I'm coming to appreciate the dark. A December full moon shines brilliantly. Orion, and the Pleiades cluster show up well before bedtime. Coyotes, occasional owls, and less occasional frogs (it is not yet deep winter here) are voices I only get to hear in the dark--and these days give me lots of dark time for listening. I sleep longer, and maybe deeper, like trees and blueberry bushes.
If we only lived in light, what would we miss? What would be lost without rhythms and cycles that bring light and dark, warmth and chill, even joy and sadness? Would such a life be flat? What would we be without the challenge that come with change? How did God gift us by creating a world with ever moving parts and pieces that cause tides to come in and out, planets to spin, perhaps even the life and death of all material things?
(I never intended to be speaking only about physical matter. Indeed, what harm do we do to ourselves, each other, the Earth when we forget that matter and spirit are interwoven in ways that cannot be pulled apart without doing harm? More on this theme will surely follow. )
During Advent Christians wait in darkness for the Light that is coming into the world, a Light we celebrate on Christmas day. Israel had been waiting 400 years for the Messiah. Inhabitants of the 21st century world wait for the Light, too, in a world that feels out of kilter, rift with conflict, on a path of ecological (and social, economic, political, and moral) destruction. We yearn, we hope, we wait.
I spend some time during Advent every year contemplating the end of Zachariah’s prophesy and prayer in Luke 1. In verse 78 he says: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” It is a perennial promise--one we see fulfilled in that Life keeps persisting generation after generation, in hope that doesn't die, in changes that make the world a place of flourishing for all God's creatures.
We celebrate a God who brought divinity and humanity fully together in Jesus, who came to be with us, to walk among us, to show us the face of a God who pours grace upon grace upon us all--holding the universe together even in the dark, reminding us that we will always, eventually be drawn back to the Light.