Scientists tell us that we crossed a line last night. At approximately 6:03 PM Eastern Standard Time, the Northern Hemisphere entered that astronomical moment known as the Winter Solstice. For the next six months, the days will gradually be getting longer, and the nights, shorter.
It just so happens that this annual nadir of daylight falls a few days before the most orgiastic public celebration of darkness on the present Western calendar. Unlike Thanksgiving, where one simply eats and drinks to excess, we not only engage in the same gastrological excesses at Christmas, but combine them with an excess of consumption of all kinds. In doing so, we allow the twinkling tree lights and flashing advertisements to deceive us into thinking that we are living surrounded by light, rather than in darkness.
Now, I enjoy gift-giving, good things to eat and drink, and parties just as much as any sensible man. Yet when we celebrate Christmas without a thought to what it means to be a Christian, then I must tell you, though you may not wish to hear it, that we are celebrating darkness. We might as well open the encyclopedia and adopt whatever pagan religious festival we come across, as an excuse for eating too much and going into debt through excessive shopping.
Christmas, you see, is actually about the existence of darkness, and how more often than not, we choose to embrace it. Indeed, we have come to love darkness so much, that God Himself had to intervene in our world in a physical way, to show us just how selfish and willful we had become. Sadly, in looking at the world in which we live, we seem intent on falling even further into that dark embrace.
The placing of the Birth of Christ at the time of year in which it occurred means more than it might, at first, appear. If December 25th is as good a candidate as any for the date of Christmas – and there are many valid reasons for accepting this ancient tradition, which I shall not address here – then we might consider what that day is generally like where He was born. The weather forecast for Bethlehem on Christmas Eve this year is 44 degrees Fahrenheit for the low (about 6 degrees Centigrade.) Whether in the 1st century or the 21st, that is not exactly balmy.
Yet whatever the actual forecast may have been, without question the Nativity occurred on one of the darkest nights of the year, thanks to the tilting of Earth on her axis. It’s interesting to consider the fact that God did not choose to enter the world in the warmth and light of summer. Instead, His Birth took place in poverty and humility, probably in the cold, but certainly surrounded by darkness.
We all know that the only way to get rid of darkness is by shining a light on it. This is what we mark at Christmastide when, as Christ says, “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in Me might not remain in darkness.” (St. John 12:46) Jesus Himself recognizes that His Birth, Ministry, Passion, Death, and Resurrection are all geared toward getting us out of that darkness, but none of it can begin until He comes into the world at Christmas. Once He does, the darkness begins to dissipate.
As we go about doing all of those things we *have* to do for Christmas, we forget the darkness which made Christmas necessary at our peril. It is only through His light which broke through the physical darkness that night in Bethlehem, amidst winter chill and shabby poverty, that we can see how far into darkness we have really fallen. Let us try, this Christmas, to make a bit more time for reflecting on that fact. For the darkness will only go away, when we allow Him to cast it out by His light.