This is one of my favorite days of the year. I know, we only have, like, thirty minutes of sun a day, it’s cold, people are getting sick, some of us are snowed in…I get it.
But it’s still one of my favorite days of the year.
Today is the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. We northern hemisphere types get less sunlight today than on any other day of the year. Yet this was a cause for celebration for many cultures in both the distant past and the present. Even Christmas itself is timed to align with pagan celebrations of the solstice.
So why celebrate what should be an otherwise depressing day? Is it because it can’t get any worse? Well, yeah. Kind of.
Some indigenous cultures used to offer ritual offerings and prayers of contrition and supplication this time of year, assuming they had angered the spirits who were depriving them of light and warmth. Sure enough, the faithfulness would bear fruit in the form of ever-growing days, year after year.
Though traditional pagan practice doesn’t take the “Gods must be angry” angle, they do acknowledge that the shortest day of the year, a fallow time when little is growing and much goes beneath the ground to rejuvenate itself, is a time of great hope. We’re not celebrating what is; we’re celebrating what is yet to come.
For Christians, the birth of Jesus, marked in only a few days, would suggest that the moment we were waiting for has already happened. But in fact, we live in the tension between the “already” of Jesus’ life and the “not yet” fully realized kingdom of God.
What does that look like? It depends on who you ask. For some it’s an apocalyptic upheaval that will set all the wrongs right, and will place believers at the right hand of God while others perish in eternal fire. For others, it’s about a far-off place being prepared for God’s faithful at a time that God deems it appropriate to call all who follow The Way into communion forever.
So why celebrate God’s love fully realized when we still witness so much discord, violence and suffering? As Tony Campolo says, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.
Yes, I know it’s Thursday, so withhold your comments. Tony is referring to Good Friday, which is the day in the Christian calendar that mark’s Jesus’ death. Seems kind of strange to call the day that the guy we call “Messiah” died good, isn’t it? But it’s only in the context of the hope of resurrection that there is any hope to be found in such a dire, dark, violent scene.
Whether you believe in a literal, bodily resurrection or if you interpret it as the more overarching transcendence of Love over humanity’s collective shortcomings, resurrection is good news. So although we mourn the present on Good Friday, we do so full well knowing that Sunday’s coming.
This is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s dark, cold, and I can’t even leave the house for all the snow on the roads. My kids are driving me crazy with pleas to be entertained and Amy’s getting over some kind of nasty stomach bug. But something better is coming.
Do I know for sure? No. That’s why they call it faith. I hold belief in things not yet seen, such as the growing sunlight, melting snow, emerging greenery and rising temperatures. I also hold faith in God’s love, fully realized. How exactly will that look? I can’t say any better than I could precisely describe what spring will look like.
But I can’t wait to find out.