Those in darkness have seen a great light

Chaplain’s Cornerwhitman padre

Padre Andrew Whitman

This will be my first winter in Cold Lake, my first winter so far north. So you veterans know, better than I, the darkness that is creeping up on us, robbing from the day to feed the night, heaving us away from the sun’s warmth and leaving it for our neighbours below the equator. The darkness will continue relentlessly its march against our land until about December 21, when the last bastion of light will inevitably halt its advance. Oh, its damage is done, and we will settle into the siege of winter until the sun pushes back the darkness inch by arduous inch like a rugby scrum, into its rightful place. As the sun marches on, it must spend its energy reversing the freeze, melting the snow, before it can eventually bring back the green grass and fruitful garden of the Earth. But it will march faithfully forward to the victory, as it does every year.

This natural phenomenon has inspired hope in our ancestors for all of recorded history. The Romans called it “Sol Invictus” – “the unconquerable sun”. Some worshiped the sun as a source of light and heat and life, providing the energy to grow the food we depend on. Many have seen it as a metaphor for an underlying spiritual reality as dark struggles against light, evil against good, death against life. The solstice reminds us that when darkness seems to prevail, light will always overcome and life goes on.

As with Narnia’s unending winter, or Sauron’s overwhelming power at the last battle of the Lord of the Rings. As with impregnable menace of the Death Star and Darth Vader’s hardened, dark heart. It seems all hope is lost, but somehow the sun overcomes. Sometimes the world can feel hopeless like that: the evil oppress the innocent and never face justice. War and famine increase, cancer strikes and no one can stop it. At those times, we (humans) need something to look forward to, for hope. I suppose that is why our ancestors celebrated at the darkest part of the year. It is a turning point – like the sun’s D-Day.

The significance of Christmas, appropriately, is one of light coming into a dark world and bringing hope. In the time of advent, we remember the prophecy of Isaiah, who said, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2, CSB) In that time, when God seemed silent and darkness seemed to be steadily gaining without anyone or anything to stand in its way, the long hoped for promise was fulfilled, bringing peace between God and man, and the promise of healing and life to a land of corruption and death. That is what we in the Christian tradition celebrate at this time of year.

I pray we may all have joy and cheer in this season. I pray you find enough light to get you through the long cold winter; that the light will shine into whatever darkness you face and give you hope to last till the summer. Merry Christmas to all. Talk to you again in the New Year.