Most of us crave the daylight, finding ourselves challenged during these long winter nights. In December and January one hardly arrives home before darkness sets in. There is even a disorder known as seasonal affective disorder to describe the depression that cripples some who experience too much darkness.
This year the winter solstice happens December 21, 2012, at 7:11 a.m., and most of us will be glad for its arrival. This day may not make as big a splash as the Pennsylvania groundhog in February, but the winter solstice marks the longest night of the year and I plan to set my smart phone alarm clock to alert me so I can give a minor cheer and rejoice that the days are slowly lengthening from then until next midsummer’s eve.
Of course those in the Christian community are marking dates far more important than the solstice. This Sunday, observed as the 4th Sunday in Advent, will be followed by Christmas Eve, a day filled with wonder and anticipation and offering many an opportunity to participate in a worship service. Then Christmas Day will hold a good share of holy awe and joyful surprise and many people will make a special effort that day to offer kindness to people in special need.
But the winter solstice shouldn’t be overlooked. Cultures throughout the world have long observed this significant turn of our globe sunward. The Chinese have a tradition of making balls of rice symbolizing family gatherings on this day. The Koreans do something quite similar, although with a slightly different recipe. Irish “wren boys” take to the highway wearing masks; in former days they would kill a wren on the solstice, carry the corpse from house to house and sing to the residents, a practice that seems barbaric and odd. Pakistanis pour cold water over their head in a rite of purification and many cultures associate the winter solstice with efforts of purification.
I once served a congregation that held a worship service called “A Service of the Longest Night” on the winter solstice. That service appealed to those who found it difficult to rejoice during Advent and Christmas for reasons of loss, depression or unhappy circumstance. Although we sometimes take it for granted that the whole world is joyfully decking the halls, jingling the bells and rocking around the tree, the tragedy in Newtown, CT, almost makes one yearn for just such a service.
Not everybody can give themselves in joyful abandon at Christmas but even so, one cannot dwell too long on the darkness. The longest night is here and then it’s gone. John’s gospel proclaims that Jesus is the light of the world and that the darkness cannot extinguish this light. Most of us won’t have to set alarm clocks to remind us when the day of the Nativity arrives and even in the bitterest gloom and most impenetrable darkness this day holds incredible hope and promise.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.