December 21st: On the Shortest Day it Still Dawns

Today is the shortest day of the year for most of us. The Winter Solstice.

It seems fitting, then, that today the church cries out, “O Dawn!” or “O Bright and Morning Star!” as if entreating the Divine to break through the shadows for just a little longer.

The ancient rituals around the Solstice predate Christianity, of course. My ancient ancestors would take this day as a festival day, cutting down a large tree to burn mightily. They’d sing and dance around the fire, drinking and playing games, and they’d do it not just to have fun. They’d do it because they believed that, in their revelry, they’d coax the sun back into the sky, their long-burning fire helping to fuel it.

After all, if you heard a party going on, wouldn’t you want to join?

And this coaxing dance soon turned into a celebration dance as the sun did return, keeping its promise for another year.

This O Antiphon the church cries out has the same kind of feel, Beloved. In fact, the church knew this, which is why it placed its Christmas celebration at this same time. The congruence was not on accident, and fit so well.

I remember at Valparaiso University singing, “The dawn from on high will break upon us…” in morning prayer, and those words became written on my heart in a way that won’t seem to rub off.

What is the wisdom here?

We no longer believe the sun to be a god that needs coaxing. And, I dare so many may believe the Son to be God, or at least profess it, but don’t behave as if they actually do…

The deeper wisdom for this day is, I think, the ancient truth that those pagans and those early Christians knew: the dawn always comes, Beloved.

The night never lasts. The shadows never last.

I was listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast “On Being” the other day where she interviewed philosopher and writer Jennifer Michael Hecht. Jennifer, who is culturally Jewish and doesn’t practice a faith, writes passionately about how suicide has affected her life. From a non-believing viewpoint, but all the while incorporating wisdom from many religions, she argues that we can fight against suicidal urges by reminding ourselves of this very truth: how you feel today is not how you’ll always feel.

Or, in other words, the dawn always comes.

Even on the Winter Solstice. Even in the Winter Solstice of your life.

Some see it as a Divine promise. Others just know it from experience. But, regardless of how you come at it, Beloved, it’s just true…the dawn always comes.

Oh, and spin Five for Fighting’s “What Kind of World Do You Want?” while you’re reminding yourself that the dawn always comes. Because, well, if the dawn always comes we always have a chance to participate in building a better world.

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