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christmas solstice

The Coming of Christmas

I know this is probably a bit early to use the “C” word but it is what’s been buzzing in my head. And yesterday was the start of Celtic Advent – in the Celtic Christian calendar there are 40 days of Advent just as there are 40 days of Lent – so here we go.

View across Dublin, sunrise March 2016 taken by me

he days are getting shorter, darker, wetter and colder as they lollop towards the end of the year. It is a time when we should be slowing down and reflecting on the year. If we tapped into our pre-industrialisation roots this was the time when our ancestors in the North would stay home and wait, wait to see if the sun would rise again, if the days would get longer or whether things would just get darker and darker. Sounds a bit familiar that – wondering if it is just going to get darker and darker? Solstice means “sun stands still” and it is almost as if the sun is thinking about whether it will start to climb again. In fact. But 4 days later it appears that the sun decides to stay around for longer, which is why Celtic Christians pick 25th December as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth so show that when there is a fear of darkness fully encroaching over the world the Son of God came to turn back the darkness. It was also a way of showing Jesus to be the fulfilment of a pagan festival.

Our bodies still remember this but we fight against the natural reaction of our bodies with our warm centrally heated, light houses, and the commercial extravaganza that this season has become. Even in Church we make it into a busy time and a buying time.

In “normal” times I would be at my wits end at this time of year planning Christmas plays where I never seemed to get the cast until the day before, planning a nativity skit with 2 or 3 close friends who “got it”, as well as planning trips off to see friends and family down south and who was coming up to visiting us. Much more into my 21st Century busy boots rather than my ancient roots.

I am a planner who doesn’t like plans which means that I start my Christmas planning around October. I make lists that I then leave all over the house[ on the kitchen table, on the notice board, in my study, in my pockets; lists for this Christmas play and the skit and for other things I would have been roped into in church; lists for presents I think I should be buying; lists for the food I wanted to get for the “big day”; a timetabled list of our trip south.

I buy my Advent books, which this year is Christine Sine’s Lean Towards the Light this Advent & Christmas which I bought ages ago, and has been sat on the arm of my sofa so I don’t forgot to use it, looking battered and tired, and I’ve signed up for a couple of Advent writing course. Then because I don’t like plans I’d lie in bed and worry about the play, the shopping, etc but not get things done.

Of course this year we don’t know if we are going to be able to see any friends or family because of Covid rules. The weather is too unpredictable and days so short meeting outside will be difficult. Church can’t have lots of people in it so there’s no Christmas plays. I can’t go rushing round shops or Christmas markets buying things for people who probably don’t want them anyway! [Note gift giver is very low in my love languages!] Should I get lots of food? Will anyone be coming to visit us? I know my kids are hoping to but …

My body is feeling sluggish and unmotivated, which could be to do with covid rules and guideline, or could be because I can’t get out much because my ribs aren’t mending as fast as I would like. I’m sure they are mending as fast as they think best. But I do wonder if this year I am accepting my ancient roots more because of the restrictions, because I have had to slow down, had to spend more time inside just resting and thinking. At this time of year our ancestors would be resting from the busyness of harvesting and the preserving of the harvest; salting, pickling, bottling, making into wines, etc.

Maybe winter is a time to feel a bit low, to hibernate, and to ponder whether this year the sun will forget to shine and things just will get darker and darker. Perhaps this year God is staying that we all need to accept that feeling of lowness, examine its origins, to not try to rush around making it go away and trying to make things like they were last year. Maybe we need to hunker down and pray that the sun will rise again, that the light will return and that in the coming year as the days increase so will our energy, our productivity, our joy. And that the darkness will flee.

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Winter Solstice

winter-solstice-scenery1366x76854654Today is the winter solstice. The day when the sun stands still for three days before days start to lengthen again.

Today I got a revelation as to why the early Christians picked December 25th as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It is a random day I’d always thought. Or had heard stories of how the pagans had celebrated on 25th because the sun had decided to reappear rather than disappear completely. But then I remembered another time when it looked like The Son had disappeared completely.

Two thousand years on from the event, knowing that outcome, as we also know that the sun will move on and the days will start getting longer, we forget what it must have felt like. Imagine firstly being a pre-science person and each year wondering if the sun would really continue or whether it would decided that it had had enough and the days lunar-eclipse-icelandwere just going to keep getting darker until there was no more. [Though maybe that isn’t so hard to imagine as we see the news and read the newspapers. We appear to be in dark times that are getting darker. So maybe we can understand.] Now imagine how it must have felt when you realised that the days were slowly minute but minute getting longer. I’m sure they had devises to be able to show them this was happening because their fear must have been great. Don’t think with 21st Century eyes and minds but with ancient minds who were not sure.

Then think back to that event two thousand years ago at Passover. So many people had given up everything – livelihoods, reputations, status, money – to follow Jesus and he’d been crucified. They knew he was definitely dead. If they hadn’t seen it they would have heard about the soldier putting his spear in Jesus’ side and the blood and water flowing out. Here was someone who was definitely dead. The Son had stood still for three days. The Son had been put in a sealed tomb – not because he was anything special but because it stopped the stench of a decaying body from seeping out. He had been still for 3 days.

I also think we miss some of this because the organised church decided that people wouldn’t wait that long so they put the crucifixion to a Friday and Resurrection to a copy_of_tombofkingsjerusalemSunday. Often I’d miss the whole Easter story by seeing the detail in that and so deciding it wasn’t a true story. There are not 3 days between Friday and Sunday no matter how hard you try. But there are scholars who have said that in certain years there are more “sabbaths” due to Jewish tradition and that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday. [I suggest googling this yourself before I lost the thread of what I’m saying 🙂 ]

So try to imagine you think this is the man who will light into the world, who you have given up everything for, but here he is not just one day, not just two days, but three days still. Dead. In a tomb. Imagine then how you would feel when he came to stand with you, when people you knew told you they had seen him. When people said The Son has risen.

 

It was like a big light going on. The whole idea of the sun staying still at the time we 1-3-1393234669celebrate Jesus birth fits hand in glove with the time we celebrate Jesus resurrection. God is so clever. And I also think as we do feel like we are entering a very dark time politically with Brexit, Trump, North Korea, wars and rumours of wars, refugees, more famines, and other atrocities we often don’t hear about we need to remember that it might look like The Son is standing still but the light is still with us and it will conquer the darkness.