By NEMS Daily Journal
There’s no coincidental linkage between the lyrics of familiar Advent and Christmas carols praising the virtues of light – spiritual and physical – because winter in the Northern Hemisphere is in its days of greatest darkness near the observances leading to Christmas.
Short daylight, long nights, often bleak, cloudy days mix with the depression many people deal with called Seasonal Affective Disorder, as daylight shrinks and nights lengthen.
The early 18th century German hymn, “Rejoice, rejoice believers” urges Christians to let their inner light shine in expectation of celebration and fulfillment:
Rejoice, rejoice, believers, And let your lights appear;
The evening is advancing, And darker night is near.
The bridegroom is arising And soon is drawing nigh.
Up, pray and watch and wrestle; At midnight comes the cry.
… Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear;
Arise, O Sun so longed for, Over this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted, We plead, O Lord, to see
The day of earth’s redemption That sets Your people free!
The opening sentences of the Gospel of John are widely used during the Advent/Christmas period, link light with life in the mystical, eternal spiritual sense:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (NRSV)
John the Evangelist’s message is profound in its simplicity: Jesus was with God in the beginning and came into the world as light to overcome darkness.
Every child, or adult, who has ever feared what’s perceived to hide in the darkness takes heart from John.
It’s interesting that the fears about darkness and its “creature” inhabitants have been strikingly similar across thousands of years.
The great human mistake is deciding that the mind of God and the light of God are our own.
The verses from John tell us that this particular divine and unique Son of God entered human history, our lives, to overcome the darkness of sins.
John also writes of the gift of God as “grace upon race” – enabling us to serve God and serve one another.
Christina Rosetti, the much loved British poet of the 19th century, was in many ways an eccentric, but her poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter’ became a classic carol of individual devotion:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
A gift of the heart is the transformative spirit of this season.