Sunday during the children’s message at church, our youth pastor showed the children a photo of a bunch of bright stars with a single candle in the foreground.
Not this photo (hers was much prettier), but something along this line.
She asked, “What do you see? What is most of the picture showing?”
“A candle,” one of the children said. “Stars” said a couple of others.
“Light,” I whispered to Mars, thinking I was leaping ahead of her. “How perfect. Advent is anticipation of the coming of light.”
But she told us, “No. The picture isn’t mostly the candle or the stars. The picture is mostly darkness.”
And sure enough, it was a black field with a few bright spots. The point was, even a small amount of light can dispel darkness. It’s difficult to even see darkness when you are in the light.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with Mars last week about Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
“I always felt sorry for Jewish children,” he said one day as we were driving to town. “We had Christmas, but they only had Hanukkah.”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “Christmas is only one day, an evening and a day at the most. Hanukkah runs for eight days!”
“Yeah, but it’s not Christmas,” he said. “Do you know the Hanukkah story?”
“Of course. The lights in the temple burned for eight days even though there was only enough oil for one day. It was a miracle.”
“Yes, but think about it,” he said. “They had a lamp that stayed lit. We had Jesus Christ!”
I just stared at him with my mouth open. “But it’s the same thing.”
“No, it’s not. One little oil lamp compared to the birth of God’s son?”
“It’s the same thing,” I insisted. “Anticipating light. Christ is the light of the world. He broke the hold of darkness. It’s all the same thing: a metaphor for hope. Humanity’s hope for salvation.”
Living in Alberta, we have become very much attuned to annual changes in the light. This time of year, the sun rises about 9 a.m. and goes down about 4 p.m. It never reaches an overhead position at all. It rises southeast of us and moves across the sky to the south, setting southwest of us.
In the north, today, Dec. 21, is notable. Though we probably haven’t yet faced our coldest days or our deepest snows — though winter has barely begun, according to the calendar — the days begin to lengthen starting tomorrow. And in the midst of minus forty degree weather, when we’re shoveling snow onto the metre-high accumulation by the front walkway, those extra minutes of sunlight every day remind us that this too shall pass.
It’s no accident that the Roman Catholic church (not knowing Christ’s actual birthday) placed the celebration of Christ’s birth around the time of the Winter Solstice — the day on which darkness is vanquished, and the days begin to lengthen again. It was a metaphor.
Depending on your faith, the temple light remaining lit could be considered a metaphorical prophecy of Christ, or Christ could be a symbol of people’s longing for a Messiah not yet come, or they could both be metaphors for the pagan celebration that winter cannot last forever.
Personally, I don’t think it matters. I think we all worship the same divinity, who appears to each of us in whatever form we can accept. It’s all metaphor in my mind. And it’s all Truth too.
The celebration — whether it’s a miraculous candle burning for eight days, a divine baby born in a stable, or the end of increased darkness — is essentially the same.
Humanity longing for light. For hope. For salvation from grief and pain and death.
A reminder that, as Reverend Robert Alden said, “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”