Measuring Light Against the Falling Dark

As the ever shortening days give way to the lingering darkness, I can feel my conscious focus attenuating as I slip into the sub-conscious repose of a wakeful dreamlike state, where I begin to ruminate more particularly the content of my days, which have already begun to pull on their winter coats in the dimming light. The cold and dark have long been traveling companions, and I now find myself in their company, while the waning days of this year begin to remember what has passed, and to imagine what might lie ahead. It begins to occur to me why Advent resides at this end of the calendar.

Scripture really offers us no specific indication of when Jesus may have been born, and all of the cultural clues available in the text actually make it far likelier that he was born during the spring or fall. So then should we conclude that we’re getting it wrong, celebrating it on December 25th? But is the significance of Christ’s birth defined by the specific date of his birth, or by what his birth portends? In this way the wisdom of the Church in selecting December 25th isn’t to be understood as a miscalculation, but as a seizing of an illustrative opportunity, inviting us to look beyond a single day . . . and discover the powerful metaphors embedded in the first advent of Christ.

405e6392f7adff79be32f3702a0a3437There were various pagan celebrations of winter solstice prior to Christmas, all of which were a variation on the theme of entreating the return of the sun, as December 21st is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Already my artistic intuition can’t help but notice how rich this metaphor is — the long dark silence of winter longing for the luminous embrace of spring, waiting for the sun (son) to arrive, bringing with it the fullness of life. And even though there are still many dark days before spring—the promise of new life is unstoppable. Now consider this, that the dark hour of a four-hundred-year long silence was broken by a baby’s cry, a moment that forever breaks history wide open, revealing the promise of an everlasting day.

It’s the ultimate use of chiaroscuro – the natal star splits the night to a song of angels . . . while the light of the world sneaks in, incognito as a peasant boy born in a common stable. The richness of the Advent narrative is truly well suited to these narrowing days of winter, as they force our meditation into stark relief, that as we begin to miss the warmth of the sun, our longing begins its vigil, waiting for the sun’s return. For those who share in the season of Advent this longing is mirrored in our desiring to receive anew, the Son who is the embodiment of new life . . . of new beginning.

So it is as the year unwinds to its closing days, and all that was left undone, and all that we struggled through, follows us into a long winter’s night – before the year closes, we pass through the recalibrating wonder of Advent. We are reminded once again that even though the light might have a humble origin, it is more than enough to lead us out of the dark into the unknown of a new year . . . that a new beginning awaits us.

I find this Peter Himmelman song evocative, with a resolutely hopeful melancholy,
that for me, seems to suit the long vigil of Advent.  


Entreating The Mystery

Autumn has always been like a magical wood, a mystical forest, for me – bidding me to come discover something hidden, something just around the next turn and into the shadowy passage way . . . requiring I leave behind my safe place outside of this enchantment. And even though I know there will be unfamiliar paths and unexpected events, filled with both wonder and trepidation . . . I can’t seem to resist the impulse to follow in and find out what God might have next for me. I’m not really sure why it is I have such a relationship with this time of year – I just know that it stirs something in me to step off my usual path . . . and into the mist.

For the most part we are all more than willing to enjoy mystery at a safe distance, as light entertainment, but in real life . . . not so much. We far more prefer the predictable, explainable, and reliable – in short, we want certainty . . . placing us in direct conflict with the life of faith we are all called to live. As a result we often choose to redefine what a life of faith is supposed to look like in order to accommodate our desire for certainty. I fear that such a reconfiguring flattens out not only what we might experience, but also our expectations of who God might be.

Don’t misunderstand me . . . I’m not suggesting in the least that God himself is anything less than certain and immutable. I’m not even suggesting that his love for us is in question, or that the value he has placed upon us, vacillates – all of these remain unquestionably sure. Still, in the midst of all of this certainty, God seems to be inviting us to let go of our need for certainty, so that we might recognize our need for him. This may strike you as a paradox – if God is our certainty, then wouldn’t letting go of certainty be the same as letting go of God? To which I ask – is your need for God, inextricably tied to your need for certainty . . . or can you allow your need for God to come from a different place?

Through the lens of retrospection, knowing the end from the beginning is how we experience heroic stories of faith – and we think to ourselves “I could do that if only . . .” But the very thing that makes such stories so stirring is how they unfold one uncertain step after another, walking in the dark, believing that what is immutably certain – the hand of God, knows the way.

f302734ca22e243d46a39cd72ba64668Sometimes circumstances shift and we find ourselves being pulled into a mystery we would have never willingly chosen. But what if mystery knocked on your door politely and invitingly said “come on, let’s go”— would you say, yes . . . knowing that God would be your compass? “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

What if you read this verse not as a fallback position, but as a wonderful invitation to take an unencumbered stroll? What if you buckled up your hiking boots, threw open your front door and stepped out? What if your only thought was — “I wonder where mystery is hiding today?” When we entreat the mystery, we plumb the depths of what it really means to place our trust in God . . . and then he makes it worthwhile.

The mystery of God, and of the life he has given us, isn’t a puzzle to be solved
— it is a song to be sung and a dance made for delighting in God’s presence