Wow! Lights, lights and more glorious lights. After the drabness of November the world takes on a new hue as our homes, businesses, public buildings and streets glow in the colours of the seasonal decorations. It warms the heart and lifts the spirit.
We are now well into The Season: celebrations, parties, crowded malls, secretive packages. We of the Christian tradition like to think we tie it all to the birth of Jesus. However, in some profound sense our celebrations come from a deeper place than any one tradition. Far more people celebrate Christmas than go to church.
The Solstice, the darkest time of the year, has been celebrated from as far back as human rituals go. The stars were an awesome mystery from the very beginnings of human awareness. Celestial bodies were carefully observed and their movements recorded. The pyramids were built in alignment with the north star. Stonehenge marked the movement of the sun. The ancients knew that not just the earth but the Universe was their home.
Those of the northern hemisphere marked the winter Solstice knowing that from that time on the light would shine a little longer each day and spring would eventually come. It was the birth of a new cycle assuring them that nature would sustain them and provide for their lives.
Even as we have lost our fear of the stars and the gods, our genes and cells still move to the rhythms of the earth. It is totally appropriate that Christianity would tie the birth of Jesus to the Solstice. He is seen as bringing new light that would help bring humanity to the loving, compassionate people that we can be. Births of many kinds mark new beginnings, new hope, new possibilities and call out for celebration.
The Bible recounts the stories of many births that were important to the Hebrew/Christian journey. Moses, saved by being sent afloat in the Nile. Samuel, destined to be a spiritual leader. Jesus, seen as the Messiah, the one who would fulfill the purpose of Israel. The wonderful stories that grew up surrounding his birth still enchant us and draw us closer to the love and goodness that is within us.
But the birth that really explains it all, although rarely heard of, is found in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. These visions of John are a mythic extravaganza of the clash of the titanic forces for life and against life. As in any magnificent drama, the crucial scene is found near the middle. (Rev.12)
“A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This is the cosmic woman. The sun and moon and the twelve stars of the zodiac take in the whole of the Universe. She is the Universe in the form of a woman.
“She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth. . . . . and she gave birth to a child.” There is great scholarly discussion over whom the child might be. It seems obvious that the child being born is humanity; not the humanity we are now but the humanity we were created to be. The Universe is in the process of giving birth to us.
Birthing is no easy task. Birthing humanity into the mature fullness of a world community of justice, compassion and creativity is not easy. Human history is the tale of our attempts to be what we are supposed to be. That it is the story of war and violence as well as ingenuity and creativity recounts how difficult it is. That we have a long way to go is obvious from the state of our world.
This birthing scene, however, is an affirmation that it is the desire of the Universe, in whatever way the Universe yearns, to bring us to what we can be.
The season of the Solstice is the appropriate time to array our homes, our world, in light. Something deep within us is responding to a desire that seems to come from the heart of the Universe. It is the time to raise our voices in songs of praise of the yearning of humanity, and of the Universe itself. It is the season to honour Jesus, and many others, who have come to help us to be personally and communally what we are meant to be. .
Enter wholeheartedly into this time of magnificent celebration.