Advent is the time of year when Christians anticipate Christmas in a month long process called ‘Advent’. We look forward to to being with family, opening presents and eating the big dinner, but during Advent we also try to put ourselves in the shoes of the ancient Israelites. We imagine what it was like to wait, all those thousands of years, for the Messiah to come. We feel, more than we know, the longing of waiting for salvation to come. The Jewish people were waiting for someone to free them from the oppression of the Roman empire. In this we see a picture of longing to be free from our own guilt, sorrow, suffering and pain.
This is such a dark time of the year. Those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder become depressed at this time of year due to the absence of daylight. The suffering is real. All of us who live in Canada may find ourselves longing for the light during December and January. But right in the middle of this dark and difficult time is the Winter Solstice. On that day we have the least amount of daylight of any day on the calendar. The good news is that the days start getting longer the next day. The light comes, life comes, hope returns.
It’s popular to bash Christmas as being the corruption of a pagan holiday – the Winter Solstice. Truth is, the Christian celebration of Christmas and the pagan celebration of Solstice share a lot of spiritual elements. Darkness being displaced by light. Life, light, hope. But despite how much these two celebrations have in common, they are not the same. In Christmas, we have the eternal light of God entering the world in the form of a child. In Christmas, we have God reaching out to us, entering into our world, entering into our pain and suffering, bringing light, life and hope. The baby Jesus is called God’s gift because with Jesus came God’s love and his offer of a loving relationship. I love you, God said, and I want to be with you.
The essential difference between Solstice and Christmas is that with Christmas comes the offer of love. Christmas is not a corruption of Solstice, but a completion of it. In Jesus is the promise of Solstice made complete.