Light from Light
Thursday 21 June was the shortest day of the year with the fewest hours between sunrise and sunset so it is also the darkest time of the year. We also see that the beautiful autumn leaves are beginning to disappear and the trees are becoming more and more bare. In the southern hemisphere we have so much light and sunshine that we don’t notice this as much as if we lived in the north, and particularly here in Sydney we are still surrounded by greenery and winter blossoms. But this time of the year, when there is more darkness than light, is a great spiritual teacher.
These months, and especially this day, the winter solstice, remind us of our need for hope and trust. The light and warmth will return. The days will grow longer. We have to wait for it. In the northern hemisphere it is no coincidence that the great Christian Feast of Christmas takes place in December, at the time of the northern winter solstice. The language and images in Scripture and in our liturgical tradition, associated with the birth of Jesus, are about light coming into the world. If we go back, thousands of years, to a world without electric lighting, we get a sense of the intensity and impact of those months and months of long dark nights, and the waiting and longing for the light to return, for the warmth and comfort of longer days, the time when new life would appear. But our ancestors had to wait in the darkness for the unfolding of the year as the earth made its slow journey around the sun. When we celebrate Christmas at that time of the year in the context of seasonal darkness, we begin to have a deeper appreciation of the images and the language of light associated with the incarnation of God and we can see why the birth of Jesus is celebrated in the middle of a long, dark winter.
In the Gospel of Luke we find one of the most exquisitely beautiful prayers ever written. These are the words Luke attributes to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, as he speaks of the coming of the Messiah:
“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
Ms Kerry McCullough
Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator