There is much debate over when the Christmas season officially begins.
Some, like myself, get the party started early in late October or early November. My personal practice is to dress up as Santa Claus during our annual trunk or treat event to mark the arrival of the season. Others prefer to follow the church liturgical calendar and wait until the start of Advent to deck the halls and fire up the lights.
It seems that a great majority of my fellow Americans, however, use Thanksgiving as their starting line. I don’t have any hard data to validate this theory, but I would guess that energy consumption numbers from electric companies across the country show a considerable increase the day following Thanksgiving as people crank up the lights on their Christmas trees and on their houses.
The argument presented most often by late Christmas proponents is that each holiday deserves its time to shine. To borrow from wise King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” A time for donning costumes and doling out or collecting candy, a time for consuming turkey and declaring our thankfulness, a time for decorating trees and distributing presents.
Even as the fanatic lover of Christmas I am can respect people’s desire to celebrate the holidays they hold dear in due season.
There is one day that comes this time of year, however, for which very few people are fighting to provide its time in the sun. This is due in large part to the fact that this particular day doesn’t provide much sunshine in which to bask. Most of us aren’t scrambling to celebrate winter solstice. But like it or not, this dark day descends upon us year after year.
Winter solstice takes place each year on Dec. 21. It is the day of the year that the sun cuts the shortest path across the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, it is the day with the least amount of daylight and the longest duration of darkness. It is officially the darkest day of the year.
While several holidays hover around the winter solstice, I don’t personally know anyone who celebrates it along with the settling in of the cold and the seasonal depression that comes to so many of us with the darker days of winter.
Long has debate raged over how Christmas came to be celebrated on Dec. 25. One camp holds that using various biblical details surrounding the announcements of the birth of John the Baptist and of the immaculate conception of Jesus, you come up with a date on or around Dec. 25. Another camp holds that the placement of Christmas is an example of syncretism, as the church attempted to replace pagan holidays with Christian holidays.
Personally, I am utterly unconcerned with and unwilling to engage in the debate. I choose to take a cue from the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:23 and avoid debates and controversies that do little more than breed quarreling.
Instead, I think it is beneficial to focus on the profound and hope-infused truth to be gleaned from the proximity of our celebration of Christmas to the winter solstice.
In Isaiah 9:2, it reads, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” These words of hope and joy are further amplified in John 1:4, which reads, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The image of light breaking into the darkness of our world is a central theme of the Christmas story and the birth of Jesus Christ. It is the reason we hang lights on our houses and on our trees. We are remembering the truth and the enduring beauty of salvation, restoration for today and eternal life for tomorrow, breaking into the difficulty of our lives.
Winter solstice reminds us that, whether we like it or not, we will experience days of darkness in our lives. We will have moments where joy is hard to find, when we feel anything but hopeful and hope is in short supply.
While darkness does in fact have its day, the light that has dawned is not seasonal. Christmas is just around the corner, reminding that the greatest of all lights has dawned because the light of life, Jesus Christ, has come. And the light of Christ shines through all of eternity. May we seek it, may we see it and may we share it in every season.
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected]