From Rev. Gary Paterson for Ripples archives in 2016:
December 21st (2016) — Winter Solstice in Vancouver occurred at 2:44 am today. The sun rose at 8:11 this morning (even if you didn’t see it) and set at 4:16 (even if you weren’t watching); which means that we had only 8 hours and eleven minutes of daylight – the shortest day of the year.
All around the northern hemisphere people celebrate the Solstice, knowing that in the days to come, the sun will show its face more freely. (Indeed, you might want to check out Vancouver’s Winter Solstice Lantern Festival, and join in a parade of light.) And, of course, many religions have shaped special festivals to commemorate the victory of light. Wicce have holy fires; Jews, Hanukkah; Hindus, Diwalhi. And Christians… well, we have Christmas.
Mind you, nobody really knew when Jesus was actually born; indeed, only two of the four gospels have anything to say about the circumstances of his birth. So, for the first couple of centuries, there were no December celebrations… not Christian, at any rate. But Dec. 25th did mark the birthdate of the Roman sun god, “Sol Invictus” (meaning, “the unconquered Sun”); and, it would seem, it was also the birthday of Mithra, the Persian sun god, (Mithraism was a strong rival to the early Christian faith). All of which led to some wild parties, where things often got completely carried away.
“What has come into being in Christ was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
So, Christianity decided to take all that understandable, seasonal energy and transform it — by the 4th century, December 25th had become Christ’s birthday, and Sol Invictus and Mithra disappeared, although some of the rituals that had accompanied their birth celebrations turned up in modified form in Christian festivities. But the focus was different as the gospel proclaimed, “What has come into being in Christ was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” ~ Camus
Remember that promise on this day of the longest night, and throughout the year. Remember that by December 25th there will be 56 seconds more daylight than on the 21st, not a big difference… but enough for hope to flourish. As the philosopher Camus has said, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” Remember that despite the presence of winter in the months to come, there really will be more and more daylight. Celebrating the Solstice is a good way to remember God’s love — no matter how dark our days may seem, there is truly nothing that can separate us from that love.
So this Christmas, celebrate the Son/Sun; marvel at all the bright lights strewn around the city, and on your Christmas tree; sing “Silent Night” at a Christmas Eve service, surrounded by candlelight; feel in your bones the bright warmth of family, friends, good neighbours; remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”
And then, go light some candles yourself… as theologian Howard Thurman says,
I will light candles this Christmas –
candles of joy, despite all sadness;
candles of hope, where despair keeps watch;
candles of courage, where fear is ever present;
candles of peace, for tempest-tossed days;
candles of grace, to ease heavy burdens;
candles of love, to inspire all my living;
candles that will burn all year long.
Light some candles, and have a blessed Christmas!