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.
There 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.