The Winter Solstice is the time of the longest night and the shortest day. The dark triumphs but only briefly. For the Solstice is also a turning point. Beginning here the nights grow shorter and the days grow longer. Slowly the bleakness of the dark is replaced by the increasing light of the sun. Many of the customs associated with the Winter Solstice such as St Lucy’s Day, Saturnalia, New Years and Twelfth Night, derive from stories of a mighty battle between the dark and the light, which is won, naturally, by the light. The lighting of bon fires and the feasting of the crowds were believed to take away the darkness and gloom of midwinter.
So is this a good time to celebrate the birth of our Saviour? The truth of course is that any day might have done, but by choosing the middle of winter, the church also described the nature and the purpose of the birth of Christ.
The people of the world, (and many still today) celebrated the end of the dark times and the beginning of a change in the light of the day. This does indeed describe the events of the birth of Christ. Christ of course had been a reality for the people of Israel since the beginning of time. He had been foretold over the centuries. The place of his birth had been recorded by the prophets and many of the circumstances of his life here on earth were already known to those who could understand the meaning of the prophesies, especially by the prophet Isaiah. The coming of Christ into this world as a man marked the beginning of the end of the great battle between God and Satan. Christ came to defeat the work of the Devil and to save mankind from the evil desires of Satan by fulfilling the will of His Father. So what better day is there to mark this event than the day upon which the darkness begins to be conquered by the rising of the sun for certainly the rising of the SON brought light to this world. The pagan people knew a little about this. They knew that there was a battle going on and that it had to do with darkness and light. But they had forgotten the promises of the Almighty, that He would bring someone to defeat the devil and set all mankind free. So they tried to do this on their own. They believed that their celebrations and carousing would dispel the darkness. And for a little time it did, but soon again the darkness came back, because man cannot overcome the judgement of God.
The darkness of the winter, the dying of the plants and the cold that is common to this time of the year in our part of the world, is not the way the world was initially created. It is what the world became after mankind broke the ties with God, after we tried to do things our own way. Christ has come to take away the groaning of creation and return mankind to paradise. This is not done by our feasting, but by Christ’s faithful sacrifice on the cross.
Satan has been defeated. God in his mercy allows Satan still some room to tempt and torment. The fullness of sin must be completed, and the fullness of the number of the elect must be reached. Each day that God waits, is a day in which mankind has the opportunity to repent from his sins and turn to Christ for the deliverance that each man needs. We see all the evil, hate and warfare around us and might wonder why it is not over. Every Christian prays daily for the returning of Christ to put an end to this dark and painful world, but each day that we wait is a day in which we can repent from our sins and turn to Christ for the deliverance from sin and Satan. In the meantime the darkness continues around us, but we can already see the light in our lives. We can already taste the treasures and pleasures of Paradise. Not fully yet, but just a little taste that gives us hope and confidence in God’s promises and the life eternal.
Does it disturb you that Christ had to do this for us? Couldn’t we have done this ourselves? We saw how the pagans tried to do this for themselves and were hopelessly caught up with the annual returning of the darkness in their world. There was no peace for them. If we had to rely on our own “goodness”, we would be equally frustrated by the returning of the darkness in our lives. But it is not up to us. God does all the work. Christ, God’s Son has already done it all and all we have to do is to believe. Believe? Believe that Christ had paid your debts. And that leads us then with determination to a life of thankfulness where we try to keep God’s commandments. Not so that we can be saved, but because we were already saved by Christ.
I think this is a big deal, do you?