Finally, the fourth Sunday of Advent is upon us, to be very quickly followed by Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The official start of winter is on this Friday, the 21st, as we experience the darkest day of the year. As Christianity made its way north from the Middle East and Asia Minor, it encountered rather stiff resistance from people who worshipped very differently, especially around this mid-winter time.
The longest day of darkness was met with fear and frenzied efforts to banish the darkness with bonfires, offerings and frenetic activities.
In an age-old practice of, “If you can’t beat them, join them”, the Christian movement adopted much of the rituals and practices by reframing the reason for these activities. God, in Christ, has now come to banish the darkness with the true light.
Celebrate! And they did. The trees decorated with fruit and nuts for the animals moved indoors eventually. The precious wheels from wagons and carts which hung from the ceilings with candles were decorated with greenery and have become our Advent wreaths.
And the shortest liturgical season of the liturgical calendar was created — Christmas. It’s 12 days long, starting on Christmas Day and ending on January the 6th — the Feast of the Epiphany, when the celebrated Magi finally make it to Christ’s side.
We’ve come a long way in the centuries since the early church felt a need to create a date for the birth of Christ. The scriptures themselves provided no real clue other than a year, more or less.
The theology of overcoming darkness with the light of absolute, unconditional love, fit rather well with already existing start of winter practices.
And it still does. We really do need annual reminders that darkness, no matter how long it seems to last, or the horrible affects on real people, doesn’t have the final word.
The Light has come. The Light is here. The Light will not go away – not even in the darkest times.
So, these times may also feel fear-filled and frenzied. Aspirations and expectations often fall short. And I suspect that far too many will simply be glad when Christmas is over.
But this is where I want to remind everyone: Christmas doesn’t actually begin until December 25. And it doesn’t officially end until January 6th.
We have already received the greatest gift of all. Pure love arrived, dwelt among us in human form, and lives with us still. Once you have unwrapped with gratitude whatever other gifts are about to arrive, share the best gift of all with each other, your friends and strangers in need of a friend.
The frenzy of this time is almost over.
Now, you can look forward to relaxing, sharing, caring and savoring the increasing light and delight in creation, loving and beloved. May peaceful Christmas moments soon attend all of us.
Rev. Elaine Silverstrim is a retired Episcopal priest, a member of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association, and a resident of Wilmington.