Here in the Northern Hemisphere the days are getting very short just now. And they’re going to get shorter. In Washington DC, where I live, it is dark by 5pm. On cloudy days it is almost dark by 4pm. My brothers both live further north, one in St. Paul the other in Seattle. It’s dark even earlier there. An old expression (probably by Yogi Berra) goes, “It’s getting late very early out there.”
Yes, indeed a great drama of light and darkness is unfolding before us. The light is giving way to darkness.
For us, who live in modern times of electricity, the drama is less obvious, little more than an annoyance as we switch on more lights. But think of those who lived not long before us, in a time before abundant electrical lights. Perhaps it was possible to huddle near a candle or fire, but in the end, the darkness put a real stop to most things. Neither work, nor reading, nor most forms of recreation could take place. Darkness was a significant factor.
Recently, in a widespread power outage, I was struck at just how really dark it was outside at night without the streetlights and lights from homes. Frankly it was hard to venture out. Bearings were quickly lost and I stumbled over simple things like a curb or fence post. We moderns just aren’t used to this.
Once I toured Luray Caverns in the nearby Shenandoah Mountains. At the bottom of the caverns hundreds of feet down they gathered us near the center of a large cave and shut off the lights. The darkness was overwhelming. It was almost a physical feeling. I felt a wave of slight panic sweep through me and was so relieved when the lights came back on. Is this what it is like to be blind? Light is very precious.
But here in a “deep and dark December,” the light continues to recede. The spiritual impact of this drama of light is brought into the Church. Our hymns turn to images of light. The darker it gets, the more candles we light on the Advent wreath. In the darkest moments of December our Advent wreath is at its brightest. And just when the days are shortest, the darkness is deepest, Christ is our light is born and the light begins to return.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1:5, 9)
December 21 and 22nd are the shortest, darkest days of the year. By December 23rd, the ancients noticed a slight return of the Light. Now the morning star heralds something new, something brighter.People, look east. The time is near Of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, Trim the hearth and set the table. People, look east and sing today: Love, the guest, is on the way.
December 24th in the deep center of the longest nights, Christ is born and on December 25th a new light shines. From then on, the days get longer.
Yes, a great drama of light is unfolding before us. It is Advent. It is time to recognize our need for the light and just how precious Jesus, the light of the world is. Ponder in these darkest days the beauty of the light.
Consider too the theme of light in many of the Advent songs we sing. Here are few excerpts, mostly from Old Latin Hymns:
From Veni, Veni, Emmanuel:O come, thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by thy drawing nigh: Disperse the gloomy cloud of night And death’s dark shadow put to flight Rejoice, rejoice Emmanuel, Shall come to thee O Israel.
From the German Hymn Wachet auf:Wake, awake, for night is flying; The watchmen on the heights are crying: Awake, Jerusalem, at last! Midnight hears the welcome voices And at the thrilling cry rejoices; Come forth, ye virgins, night is past; The Bridegroom comes, awake; Your lamps with gladness take; Alleluia! And for His marriage feast prepare For ye must go and meet Him there.
From Conditor Alme SiderumCreator of the stars of night, Thy people’s everlasting light Oh Christ, thou savior of us all, We pray thee hear us when we call
From Vox Clara ecce intonat:Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding; “Christ is nigh,” it seems to say, “Cast away the works of darkness, O ye children of the day.” Wakened by the solemn warning Let the earthbound soul arise; Christ, her Sun, all ill dispelling, Shines upon the morning skies. From an Old German Hymn: Rejoice, rejoice, believers, and let your lights appear. The evening is advancing, and darker night is near. The Bridegroom is arising, and soon He draweth nigh. Up, pray, and watch, and wrestle: At midnight comes the cry. See that your lamps are burning; replenish them with oil. And wait for your salvation, the end of earthly toil. The watchers on the mountain proclaim the Bridegroom near. Go meet Him as He cometh, with alleluias clear.
From the Liturgy of St. James, 4th Century (Σιγησάτο παρα σὰρξ βροτεία):Rank on rank the host of heaven Spreads its vanguard on the way, As the Light of light descendeth From the realms of endless day, That the powers of hell may vanish As the darkness clears away.
From Veni Redemptor Gentium:Thy cradle here shall glitter bright, And darkness breathe a newer light, Where endless faith shall shine serene, And twilight never intervene
Enjoy this Advent and watch for the Light, it will surely come