Embrace the darkness

Christ’s light shines brightest on longest night

Dec 19, 2016 by

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Hens lose their egg-laying gusto as the days get shorter. Rather than offer a winter respite to her flock, my wife chose brainwashing over relief. Already in October she festooned the chicken run with Christmas lights. It worked, and Rose, Doro­thy, Blanche and Sophia keep pumping out the eggs.

We humans do the same thing to ourselves, but not all of us are blessed with the brain of a chicken.

The Christmas season starts before Advent begins. It is an arduous test of merry mettle that marches headlong into the darkest depths of the year. Never mind that Jesus was born in spring or summer; the pagans knew what was good for them when they reveled at the winter solstice. The early Christians took advantage of that, even eventually adopting worldly tree worship as their own.

Some of us are happy with the tinsel and lights, and that’s fantastic. Others find pain, grief and darkness — which get compounded with unrelenting singing, shopping and obsession with secular society’s inconsequential “war” on CHRISTmas.

Churches — Mennonites included — increasingly see an opportunity for a “longest night” service of remembrance and comfort. The winter solstice, Dec. 21, conveniently comes just before Christmas every year.

A brief online scan of Mennonite congregational announcements indicates such services get more common as one moves north, following the sun’s ever more fleeting presence.

Even a dim light shines brightly in absolute darkness. The star the shepherds followed to the first Nativity pageant had the advantage of supernatural qualities, but it also had the benefit of little competition. The strings of lights gracing our homes and trees are symbols of a coming Messiah’s hope for the world, but they can also bring brokenness and pain. The most spiritually wholesome exercise may be to spend some contemplative moments with a lone, quiet candle’s flame.

“There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. . . . The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1-2). The prophets knew about darkness, and we could today, if the music and the lights and the fruitcake would just stop for a moment. We can find sanctuary in our sanctuaries, trading multinational corporation-induced “comfort and joy” for the real thing.

It’s appropriate to take time to hold sadness and pain, because we can trust that the darkness cannot overcome the light of Christ’s love (John 1:5). Ultimately, it’s the longest night that makes Christ’s light shine brightest.


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