Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the
love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the western parts of Britain, there is a tradition of toasting to apple trees during the long, dark winter days: wishing them good health, for their health would ensure next year’s crop. Was hail, frequently spelled wassail, is the greeting, and it means “to be in good health.” The world that led to this tradition is so much more permeable than modern industrialized life. Artificial lights, well-insulated and heated homes, food that can be imported from just about anywhere, cars to travel over snowy roads, and my good friend the winter parka all wrap us up, keep most of us safe from winter. Winter becomes an inconvenience, not a threat.
And yet, as Anglicans, we come from a people who counted the days until the sun came back. Who toasted apple trees and prayed for the deep winter to break in a timely fashion. Who gathered around life-giving fires and told stories through the long winter nights, creating a place of glowing warmth in the midst of the raging cold.
With this atmosphere in mind, I can much better appreciate what it means to celebrate the coming of the Light, who breaks through the darkness. The time around the solstice seems like the darkness will never end; but just when it seems like it will be dark forever, the light returns. While we believe Jesus is always present in our world and in our lives, in Advent we anticipate retelling the story of Jesus’ particular entry into our world when he was born, as we hear so often, in a stable in Bethlehem. In Advent we also look ahead to the time when he will come back, as a king, to bring his kingdom to earth. We look back, and we look forward. But if we think of Jesus’ birth and his return as times of power and light, then where does that leave us now, in the time between? In a time of darkness and weakness?
I like to think we can be like our spiritual ancestors, who toasted to the promise of new life, even in the middle of darkness. We can see that the darkness is not empty, but full of the seeds of a kingdom that is more just and beautiful than the one we inhabit. We can pray for the coming of the Light, preparing ourselves to welcome him in.
Post by Carrie Combs
Photo used with permission by Chris Randall Fromm his blog: http://www.ilovenewhaven.org/2014/11/after-compline-chris-randall.html?q=Compline