These fours words from St. John’s Gospel provide a perfect description of the situation here in New England at this time of the year. The days are short and the nights are long.
Sunrise is too late and the sunset way too early. If you commute to work, it’s very possible that you go several days without seeing your home in the daylight. You’ve probably forgotten what your kids look like in the sunlight. At this time of the year it’s dark in New England, and I don’t like it.
Oh, I know that the darkness is the result of natural meteorological phenomena. As the earth approaches the winter solstice, the Northern Hemisphere, where we live, is leaning away from the sun. And to complicate matters, we reside in the Eastern part of our time zone, meaning that the sun disappears from sight very early and travels on to the wilderness of places like Pennsylvania and Ohio. I understand the science, at least in part, but it’s dark at this time of the year, and I don’t like it.
We’ve created some very understandable practices to combat the darkness of the season. It’s not unusual for people to light decorative candles and place them around the house to shed some soft light on the residents. Many families ignite the fireplace to provide heat, light and a comfortable ambience at this romantic time of the year. And as Christmas approaches, most homes are decorated with Christmas lights and displays, piercing the darkness and brightening the streets and neighborhoods in which we live.
The devotion of the Church, as we travel through Advent, adopts a similar approach. Each week we light one additional candle on the Advent Wreath, increasing the light, preparing for the coming of the Light. The blessing of the Advent Wreathe is all about light: “Lord God, your Church joyfully awaits the coming of its Savior, who enlightens our hearts and dispels the darkness of ignorance and sin. Pour forth your blessings upon us as we light the candles of this wreath. May their light reflect the splendor of Christ.”
Fortunately, as we approach the end of December, the tide will turn. If you watch the daily almanac closely, you’ll note that the inexorable march toward earlier sunsets will slow, stop, and then begin to turn around. The time of morning sunrise will follow suit in January, moving to an earlier time each day. The days will begin to lengthen; we will have survived another winter; and the light will have conquered the darkness once again.
In the context of this cosmic battle between darkness and light, is it any wonder that the early Christians observed the Nativity of Jesus at this time of the year, celebrating the birth of the Son of God at the same time the sun is reborn? And the coming of the Son of God, the Light of the World, is really good news for us, as it was for the early Christians.
The Advent Wreath prayer refers to “the darkness of ignorance and sin.” Without a doubt, there’s darkness, ignorance and sin in our nation and culture. We continue to fight the destruction of innocent human life in the horrible sin of abortion. We’re surrounded by the onslaught of “gay marriage” that seeks to legitimize unnatural, immoral sexual behavior and arrogantly claim for itself the dignity of holy Matrimony. We wrestle with the forces of a national insecurity and embedded racism that reject the immigrants coming to our shores seeking only a better life. We watch hopelessly as our economic system quivers, quakes and crumbles, trapping the disadvantaged and poor under its fallen rubble. We live in a world that hasn’t learned the lessons of history and seeks to solve its problems through violence, terrorism and war. Our world is filled with darkness. Is it any wonder, then, that we cry out, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)
Perhaps there’s darkness in your personal life too, the result of individual or family problems. Maybe you’re wrapped in grief, having just suffered the untimely death of a loved one. Maybe a serious illness, a life-threatening illness, is plaguing you or a family member. Perhaps you’re a victim of the economic crisis, worried about the loss of your job or even your home. Maybe you’re dealing with a family problem – the dissolution of your marriage, or a teenage son or daughter seemingly out of control.
In short, you’re caught in the darkness and long for the light. With the world and the Church you pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
At Midnight Mass on Christmas the Scriptures proclaim, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. “ (Is 9:1) And in the Gospel read later that day we hear these words: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5) In other words, as surely as the dark days of winter give way to the brighter days of spring, we have confidence that the Light of Christ will never fail us. That gives us hope and peace regardless of the darkness that surrounds us. Let us pray with renewed fervor, then: “Come, Lord Jesus.”