by Archbishop George Stack
The cold mornings, the dark nights and the wintery weather serve to remind us that we are entering the darkest time of the year – the winter solstice. December 21st marks the shortest day and the longest night. Nature seems to have gone to sleep. The leaves have fallen from the trees and the gardens seem to be dead.
No wonder, from the dawn of civilisation, the pagan god ‘Sol Invictus’ was worshipped and prayed to. In the 2ndcentury, the Romans believed that this ‘Unconquered Sun’ would rise again and bring warmth and new life to the earth. We all look forward to the Spring and Summer. Darkness and Light. Death and New Life. These are times and circumstances when ‘the Ancient of Days’ becomes a young child and say:
“Behold, I make all things new”
It is in the midst of these paradoxes that the Church celebrates the birth of the true light. Jesus is the light that darkness cannot overcome. He is not the ‘sun’ but the ‘Son’ who, of whom we read in the prophecies of Isaiah from 500 BC:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:2)
There will be plenty of Christmas lights, glowing fires, warmth and goodwill shining all around us in shops, schools, parties and play over the next month. But the paradox continues with those who are on the margins, having nowhere to ‘lay their head’ most of all, perhaps with heads that carry the burden of mental illness. It is good that Christmas is a time for giving, not just gifts to those we love but also to those who feel cut off from love.
Advent and the build up to Christmas have a sense of being both familiar and something different as well. Different because at the very least each person is slightly different to what we were one year ago. Perhaps not wiser, but facing new issues – often with diminished strength. It is good to be mindful of these paradoxes of past and future, emptiness and fulfilment, waiting and consolation.
In the midst of the growing excitement as Christmas draws near, it is good to spend the season of Advent restoring some of the quietness and inner peace which is a gift of the Christ child. The readings and prayers of Advent, the Advent wreath itself speaking of time and eternity, these are all aids to help our desire to wait unfulfilled in the dark, in the midst of a season that conspires to fling bling and tinsel at us right through December.
“Jesus is the Reason for the Season” we read on the Wayside Pulpits of many a Baptist church. The First Sunday of Advent helps us to focus mind and heart in hope and expectation that he will come to us afresh in each circumstance of every day in the days,weeks and years which lie ahead.
“How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
Whom God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming;
But in this world of sin.
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in”.