Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Blue Christmas: The Light Will Overcome

I first heard the name, “Blue Christmas” in 2015. Before that, I hadn’t given the Winter Solstice much thought. It didn’t seem to connect to anything I saw in my faith traditions. But when I learned about the longest night of the year’s place in the church year calendar, I knew it was something I needed to embrace.

Blue Christmas falls on the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is a time to reflect and lament the hurt and brokenness that exists in the world and acknowledge that God hears and sees us calling out to Him in our deepest need. Everything about this echoes the heart of Advent.

Historically, Jesus wasn’t born in the middle of December. It wasn’t until the year 336 AD that emperor Constantine formalized the celebration on December 25. But nothing is created in a vacuum. Within the Greco-Roman world, this was already a time for celebrating a return to the longer days of light.

Author and speaker Kate Bowler comments on this in her Advent devotional, The Season of Waiting, and waiting . . . and waiting . . .:

“When the early church chose December 25 as the date to celebrate the Nativity, they must have been aware of the powerful symbolism of midwinter, when the seasons turn, when darkness, at long last, begins to diminish.

In one of the early medieval antiphons sung on the seven evenings before Christmas Eve, Jesus is hailed as 'O, dawn of the east, splendor of light eternal, sun of justice.'

We still sing in our carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel:
'O come, O Dayspring, come and cheer Our spirits
by thine Advent here, And drive away the shades of
night and pierce the clouds and bring us light.'

. . . Light is so much a part of the Advent season.”
(p. 20)
But before the Light, it was dark. And if Advent teaches us anything, it’s that we need darkness in order to more clearly see the Light.

It’s more than a study in contrasts, however. It goes deeper than that. On the first day of Creation we learn that the Earth was “formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). And then God says, “'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light 'day,' and the darkness he called 'night.' And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day." (Genesis 1:3b-5).

Peeling away the darkness, bringing order to chaos, restoring life—these are all acts of creation and redemption.

The answer to the darkness of grief and loneliness, fear and pain, suffering and loss is not about less darkness. The answer is found with the arrival of Light.

This is the model God initiated with Jesus’ birth. His answer to the age-old cries of His people was not to take away the oppression of empires, the casualties of disasters, famines, and wars, the chronic stain of sin. Instead, He introduced something new: The Firstborn of Creation, the Light of the World. Not to be a conquering superhero, but to sympathize with our weaknesses and enter the darkness like one of us.

Kelley Nikondeha writes in The First Advent in Palestine,
“He (Jesus) didn’t escape the heartbreak or the haunting presence of empire. He was not spared the personal trauma of loss or the difficult learning of how to live without a loved one. . . Before he carried the cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, his body carried loss in Nazareth. This is incarnation. Not inhabiting a body of privilege, exempt from poverty and violence, but living in a body thick with the trauma common to most in Galilee and Judea. God incarnated this pain in his own human body. It became a part of His human experience and was woven into God’s eternal memory." (p. 96)

This is vital in our understanding of Jesus’ humanity, and speaks volumes about His all-encompassing love for us. Only, there is a difference between Jesus and the common human. While He walked this Earth marked by trauma and suffering, He also carried within Himself the Light of Life.

When the Gospel-writer John chose to bypass a record of the Nativity story, he created a beautiful exploration of these truths. He opens his book with a parallel to Genesis 1:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
Further on, John ends chapter 16 of his Gospel with this verse, a promise from Jesus to His disciples. And to us also:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Tonight is long. Our numerous dark nights seem to stretch endlessly before us. But tonight we name them. We acknowledge the brokenness and pain in this world and in our lives. And then we hold on to this promise: the Light will overcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.