By Kathy Teel
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:3b-5)
This weekend we will experience the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The solstices have been important to the human experience since the first cavemen and cavewomen noticed that they had fewer daylight hours for hunting and gathering.
Religions, both ancient and renewed, have found deep spiritual meaning in the return of the sun after a long, dark autumn, and the decline of the sun after a bright, fruitful spring. They made our ancestors think of the natural cycles all nature experiences—birth, growth, decline, death, and rebirth.
The Winter Solstice marks the festival of Yule for Wiccans, Pagans, and other nature-honoring religions of the past and present. It is also very near the important Christian feast of the Nativity of the Lord, which, contrary to popular belief, has everything to do with the presence of the sun in the lives of humankind.
The gospel writers make it very clear that though Jesus was Jewish ethnically and religiously, he was a hero for the world, Greeks as well as Jews. And in Greek culture, it was thought that a hero’s life ended on the same day it began—that is, on the day he was conceived, so there were no leftover days.
How can we know when the hero was conceived? Because we know when he died. In Jesus’ case, he was thought to have died on March 25—the Vernal Equinox, when darkness and light balanced on a knife’s edge. He died, and after that, light gradually increased throughout the world.
The rest is simple math. If he was conceived on March 25 (which the Christian tradition still observes as the Annunciation of the Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Jesus’ conception day), then he must have been born nine months later on December 25, which was considered the date of the Winter Solstice. When he was conceived, he brought an increase of light, and when he was born, he brought in the light to a world that was growing ever darker.
The Sun is a symbol of the Son, and the light a sign of the Light. Nobody knows, of course, when Jesus was really born, but it doesn’t matter. Christians recognized early on that the Earth itself gave them a way to communicate the essence of the matter. The Winter Solstice teaches us how Jesus’ birth brought the Light of God’s love to the world, and the darkness can’t overcome it.
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Kathy Teel is a former pastor and now works with learning disabled teenagers. She is also a freelance writer and editor.