Here we are, at the darkest time of the year.
The winter solstice arrived Dec. 21 — with just 8 hours, 49 minutes and 27 seconds of possible sunlight.
Isn’t that how life has seemed for the last two years? A lot of darkness?
Darkness brings fear — or at least great caution. We can’t just run outside and skip through the yard with our faces upturned. Well, we could, but we might trip over something in the dark — both the real and the situational dark.
As Pope Francis noted on Nov. 22, speaking to young people participating in a Vatican Christmas song contest, even the lights of Christmas seem dimmed again this year because of the pandemic. Quoting St. Paul VI, the pope told the young people, “This world in which we live needs beauty, so as not to fall into despair.”
We should remember that at Christmas. Light and beauty drive out darkness and despair. After all, on Dec. 25, there will be 8 hours, 50 minutes and 7 seconds of possible sun. Almost a minute longer than Dec. 21. Not much more, but still more light than it was.
The Son-light of Christmas offers far, far more. As the pope also said, the “light of Christmas shines all the brighter amid the darkness of the pandemic…”
No one knows for certain the date of Jesus’ birth. While the tradition of Dec. 25 dates back at least 1,600 years, no one knows exactly.
The church, therefore, chose the darkest time of year — at least in the Northern Hemisphere — for Nativity celebrations. In Europe and the Middle East, it is winter. When better to celebrate the Light of Christ coming into the world than the middle of the darkest, coldest time? Doesn’t “Christmas Mass during the Day” remind us that “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (Jn 1:9)?
Christmas is a reminder in dark times. A reminder that we need light. Not just sunlight, but Son-light. And, as Christmas rushes by and the New Year arrives, we need to keep Son-light alive in our hearts. It may not be easy. But there are many little things to do to remind ourselves of that Son-light.
For example, leave your Christmas lights up longer. They shine in the darkness. In the church, Christmas lasts until Jan. 9, the Baptism of the Lord. Your real tree may not last that long, but you probably have other Christmas lights that could stay on.
Did you finish your Christmas cards? If not, why not do them now? After all, Christmas isn’t over. Think of the bright smiles that will greet your late card.
Send a “thank you.” Yes, a real card. “Who sends cards anymore?” some would say. While writing with pen and paper seems a lost art, what a treat for the person who gets that paper and ink greeting.
Small gestures, yes, but as Pope Francis noted, “the beauty of Christmas shines through in the sharing of small gestures of concrete love.”
Also, don’t forget prayer. One way to remember to pray is to keep your Nativity scene up. Stop for a moment now and then to look at those figures and think of all the people you know who need prayer. Pray for them.
If you watch the 9 p.m. Christmas Eve TV Mass from St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, you’ll see a wrapped box near the altar. Inside are prayer intentions. Each year, Bishop David Ricken contacts people around the diocese, asking them to write — yes, with pen and paper — what they need remembered in prayer. Those are returned to the bishop and placed in that box. Think of all those prayers for a moment. If you didn’t send in your intentions, mentally, add them now. Never underestimate the power — and the divine light — of prayer.
What other little acts can you do to bring light to our wintery world? A “Happy New Year” to a stranger on the sidewalk? An extra donation, even though “the Christmas giving season” is over? The list is endless. Sometimes bringing light can be as small as not posting that snide remark on social media or as big as repairing a broken relationship with a long-delayed apology.
“The true light … was coming into the world” (Jn 1:9). That Son-light is still coming — and is here now. You may have to look harder to see it this year, even as the days grow longer, but the divine light keeps coming. And sharing it is easier than you think — as long as you think about it.