Today is the shortest day. The day of the year with the most darkness and least light. So in York today the sun rises at 8:21am and sets at 3:44pm. The exact length of the day will be 7h 22m 47s. Go further north and the length decreases. Go south and it increases.
Years ago people marked this day – ‘Yule’ to Nordic people – with pagan prayers to all sorts of gods and goddesses. It’s not surprising then, when our ancestors found faith in Jesus, that they took an old pagan festival celebrating darkness and used it to point to the coming of the great Light! Because that’s exactly what the coming of Jesus is like. In a dark world, someone has switched on a light. The ‘someone’ is God. And the ‘light’ is Jesus Christ.
This theme of Christ the Light is the simple, dominant theme of Advent. That’s why we have Advent wreaths with a large central candle signifying Jesus in the middle. It’s why we put up lights for Christmas and light lanterns. Christ the Light is found all over the Advent Scriptures. So Isaiah prophesied ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2). Zechariah sang that ‘the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death’ (Luke 1:78-79). John wrote: ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5).
One thing that surprised me when I was in Burundi in Central Africa earlier this year was how quickly it got light in the mornings. Being fairly close to the equator, it all happened in about 10-15 minutes! It was dark, and then just a few minutes later it was light. None of this ‘slow dawn’ that we get in the northern hemisphere! It felt like someone has switched on a light. Now that’s what the coming of Jesus should feel like. It’s a new day. A new dawn. Light has come. So let’s get festive and celebrate!
Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness.
Opened my eyes let me see.
Beauty that made this heart adore you.
Hope of a life spent with you.
Here I am to worship. Here I am to bow down.
Here I am to say that you’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely. Altogether worthy.
Altogether wonderful to me. (Tim Hughes Thankyou Music, 2000)
Is there darkness into which you can pray the light of Christ? Will you be marking the shortest day by celebrating Christ the Light? Can you and your loved ones welcome his light into your hearts and homes today?