by Bill Smith
For many years, one of the activities my wife, Mary, and I like to do is to celebrate Summer Solstice on a high bluff near Empire overlooking Lake Michigan. From that vantage point, the light lasts beyond 10 PM, and we feel that summer and its warmth and light will stretch on forever. Sadly, it does not. Now, Winter Solstice joins us December 21 at 5:23 PM, the shortest day of the year and the day with the most darkness. Over time, all civilizations have pondered the conflict between light and dark with many writings looking at both phenomena. Ancient cultures viewed the winter solstice as a time of death and rebirth. The seeming death of the light and very real threat of starvation over the winter months would have weighed heavily on early societies, who held varied solstice celebrations and rites meant to herald the return of the sun and hope for new life. Scandinavians and Germanic pagan tribes lit fires and may have burned Yule logs as a symbolic means of welcoming back the light. Cattle and other animals were slaughtered around midwinter, followed by feasting on what was the last fresh meat for several months. A couple of little known facts about the Winter Solstice. The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth on December 21, 1620 to start a society that would allow freedom of worship. It also appears that Stonehenge is aligned perfectly to the sunset of the Winter Solstice.
As December 21st passes, the amount of light very slowly increases, initially by a few minutes a week. By May, large increments of light are added each day.
The Bible is replete with references to light and goodness, many of which we are very familiar reading. The Book of John, in particular, has many references to Jesus and light. John 8:12 says “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of light.” And John 1:4 simply states “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
I think that most of us appreciate the conflict between light and darkness allegorically over time and the biblical references to the same. But how does this apply to us now in our daily lives and our relationship to Grace Church? With the beginning of Advent, what does this tell us about our time of anticipation and the light of Christmas?
At our Vestry meeting last month, Reverend Kathryn gave us all a little booklet entitled Living Well Through Advent 2018. Although I have not read the booklet completely yet, it does describe using the light of Advent to practice generosity – generosity to ourselves, others and God. Perhaps this is the foundation we can use to conduct our lives for the remainder of the year.
Also at our recent vestry meeting, each committee report included a plea for more volunteer help. Whether solving our roof problems, working on the stewardship committee or any of the Jubilee ministries, new ideas and energy are always needed! Like most churches, Grace is blessed with an incredible core of volunteers who step forward whenever an “opportunity” presents itself. But this Advent season as we contemplate our many blessings and gifts, perhaps we can reflect on the generosity needed to keep Grace Church a vibrant downtown church. I believe that is our calling and asks us to shed a little light on our time, talent and treasures as we look forward to Christmas and beyond.