Celebrations of Light in a Season of Darkness

[The following reflection, written by our Theologian in Residence Edward Dunar, appears in the autumn issue of the Craigville Chronicle]

As the days shorten and the nights lengthen, we approach a season that is sacred in many cultures and faiths. As Christians, we celebrate the arrival of Jesus into human history during this time. Scripture is not specific about when the birth of Jesus actually took place, and there isn’t much historical evidence to support the conventional wisdom that the Church placed the celebration of Christmas in December to compete with observances of the winter solstice. It’s more likely that early Christians were simply following the same poetic instinct as other cultures with winter celebrations. By observing the birth of our Savior in the darkest season, we remind ourselves that Jesus brought a brilliant light into a world that can be dark, cold, and scary. We continue to symbolize this understanding today by enlivening our long New England winter nights with strings of multi-colored lights. We think of this season, with holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, as a time of great joy. We associate it with an appreciation for blessings and family.

Even so, for many people it can feel like the loneliest time of the year. A season that is supposed to bring warmth might remind us how much we miss the people who have left us, or it might resurface old regrets. Sometimes the festivities of this season, which radiate such bliss, don’t seem to match the loneliness we feel inside. When we hear the carols that promise God’s coming, sometimes we feel only God’s absence.

Everyone goes through some holiday seasons that feel more empty than joyful. In these times, we can find hope in God’s promise of comfort and redemption. For those of us who feel the warmth and spirit of the holidays, we must be mindful of those friends, family members, and neighbors who feel caught in the darkness. God calls us to let our joy overflow so that we might be signs of God’s light to those who are suffering.

I suspect most of us fall somewhere in between. Sometimes, we feel the warmth and excitement of the coming of Christ. Other times, our sense of loneliness or imperfection seems overwhelming. In community, we can find the light that sooths the darkness in our own lives and opportunities to be that light for other people. As Christian social activist and mystic Dorothy Day wrote, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

May you see God’s light during the holidays to come, and may you be a reflection of that light to the people you love. Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!