Hey friends. Before beginning, I feel I need to say that most of this post is based on a podcast I recently listened to. The podcast is Rob Bell’s “The Robcast,” and it’s the most recent episode entitled “Alexander Shaia on Darkness and Hope.” It blew me away, so I encourage you to check it out.
What do you think about when you think about darkness? Monsters? Thieves? Ozzy Ozbourne?
Chances are that you some sort of negative connotation toward the darkness, and for good measure. Lots of bad stuff tends to happen at night instead of during the day, and pop culture has made light (pardon the pun) of this in about every medium you can think of. Think of those cartoons where a character runs into something like a cave, and you can only see their eyes, only for them to find another pair of menacing eyes that chase them out of the cave.
Darkness is not generally associated to positivity.
As this post goes up, we’re in the middle of December, a time many people associate with the advent season. When you think of advent, you might think of the 24 days leading up to Christmas where each day remembers how Jesus came to earth. And if you’re like my family, you have an advent house where the kids get to open a little gift each day. (This year, my parents filled my daughters’ advent house with nativity rubber duckys. Super cute, check out this link to see what I mean.)
But as you can guess, this isn’t particularly how the advent season originated. It isn’t definitive how it truly began, but according to Alexander Shaia, advent wasn’t originally the 24 days leading to Christmas like we know it today. Instead, the advent season aligned roughly a month and a half leading up to the “winter solstice”, winter solstice being in quotes because historically, that date was December 25. That said, the advent season historically aligns more to beginning/mid-November through December 25, what we now know as Christmas.
As we biologically know, the days leading up to the winter solstice grow shorter and shorter as the revolution of the earth takes a particular geographical region away from the sun. Agricultural cultures know this very well as there is a time for planting, a time for cultivating, and a time for harvesting at the same times every year. It would make sense, then, that in agricultural calendar context, the time of advent coincides with that time post-harvest when the air gets cold and farmers let their lands rest until spring.
Even in our modern day context, farmers know that their busiest season is from spring to fall, and winter is a time when things slow down because it’s not feasible to try grow crops in the dead of winter.
So, recapping before going forward, the advent season aligned with a time of relative calmness when days grew shorter and darker.
Not saying that there’s nothing for a farmer to do during this time, but relatively speaking (especially for earlier times), there was a lot more free time during the advent season than the summer season. The Celtic tradition understood this and revered this, marking the advent season as a time of reflection and introspection.
To the Celts, the advent darkness was sacred and holy.
Alexander Shaia further notes that decorating trees and decorating areas with candles was to revere the sacredness that was this time of advent, this time between the fall harvest and the spring planting. The lights weren’t there to banish the darkness but rather to accentuate it. Practically speaking, we need some level of light so we’re not stumbling around in the darkness, but metaphorically speaking, the darkness was elevated when juxtaposed with the very small lights.
(I’m not sure if Shaia is historically correct, but if he is, then do you see where the traditions of Christmas trees and string lights originate?)
It’s interesting how not a lot has changed from centuries past to today. The days still grow darker this time of year, and all work, farming or not, tends to slow down around this time. Regardless of whether or not you celebrate the Christian idea of advent, I find the Celtic idea of advent to be wholly relevant to everybody despite your worldview.
As 2018 comes to a close, I encourage you to embrace the quiet and solitude of the darkness. Take time to be in the present moment, setting aside the hustle and bustle that has become too strongly associated with the holiday season. Use this time to grow and revitalize yourself as we prepare to begin a new season in 2019.
And that may mean facing hurts you’ve been burying. December can be a really difficult time of year for many people, and I know I join that group this year myself as I cope with my own physical ailments. For me, I’ve pushed so hard this year to be better that I’ve pushed down the negative emotions associated to my growing sickness. My prayer for myself is to find peace in this time, working through the pain and finding solace in the darkness.
I pray the same for you, too, friend. If this a season of struggle for you, I pray a sense of peace in the nowness, casting your anxieties aside and letting tomorrow worry about itself. If this is a joyous season for you, I pray that your joy spills over into those around you, filling up the cups of those in desperate need of your light.
Regardless of your scenario, may this season be a season of growth for you.
May you find grace and peace throughout this advent season.