Longest Night—An Introit For the Winter Solstice

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Photo: Winter Country Road Mac Wallpapers

From eons past, upon the gathering gloom

And shade of this one evening, we tightly grasp

That three-strand cord held by our ancestors

From every shore and mount and plain

Upon this oceaned rock, who held in awe

The great fiery orb, which coursed above their heads;

Its light of such great concentration

No person dared stare into the brilliance

Of its face, for human eyes cannot bear

A moment’s glance into its searing countenance.

And yet…

From whose womb has come the ice?

And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth?

Water becomes hard like a stone,

And the surface of the deep is imprisoned.

(Job 38:29-30, NAS)

 A battle eternal seemed waged in the heavenly sphere

For the chariot of light and warmth and life

Did not cross the sky each day unchallenged, inviolable.

Some unseen hand pulled at its reins, with what intent?

What mystery was at work as day cascaded into night,

Warmth dissolving to coldness, light extinguished

By the dark, new lights piercing the growing shade,

A pale swath spilt cross the arch of the heavens, with

Streaks flashing across the heavenly vault, or ominous wraiths

Appearing unbidden with tails stretching across the vastness of the night?

One great traveler of the night, too, its crescent visor

Ever revealing and concealing its expression immutable, but for

Those nights when shining bright, it darkened to a mask blood red

The mountain is dark, the shadows cast over it,

All the sunbeams of eventide are gone,

With head held high the Sun has gone

To the bosom of … his mother.

(From “Gilgamesh and Huwawa”, circa 18th Century BCE; Trans: A. George)

As twilight turned to dawn—and dawn to day—

Our ancestors saw the blessed light of their abundance

Ever southward creep lower into the sky as one condemned.

The hand upon the rein, invisible, pulling down its midday transit,

Held, too, unyielding through the night, with what intent?

Earth’s breath chilled, life’s too, and with it, the embers

Of the human heart dimming with each shortening day.

Very day and very life faltered, trudging in the darkening mists,

Forced march toward the valley of the shadow of death.

The darkest day of mortals has caught up with you,

The solitary place of every mortal has caught up with you.

(From “The Death of Gilgamesh”, circa 18th Century BCE; Trans: A. George)

 Those shadows, too, cast longer as the

Light of day growing ever shorter, while

Night’s mantle weaving on a heavenly loom

Impenetrable to any ray of light or hope of warmth

A veil sweeping away the final rays of light

Into the absolute darkness of our sepulchered fate.

“I will cover the heavens and darken their stars;

I will cover the sun with a cloud,

And the moon shall not give its light.

All the shining lights in the heavens

I will darken over you

And I will set the darkness on your land,”

Declares the LORD God.

(Ezekiel 32:7b-8, NAS)

From eons past, upon the gathering gloom

And shade of this one evening, we tightly grasp

That three-strand cord held by our ancestors

From every shore and mount and plain

Upon this oceaned rock, who held in awe

The great fiery orb, which coursed above their heads.

In their wisdom, charting those celestial journeys,

The shadows not the light divulged the hand’s loosing grip of the solstick reins.

Out of the mysteries of the Sky’s inconstancies there yet

Was a music of the spheres, a great symphony of the heavens:

The great darkness of this longest night is a singularity.

Light has not been quenched, its warmth’s ember ne’er burned out

By Death’s chill, unchallenged. For upon the Dawn of morrow

With warming hearts and upturned faces we greet the Light reborn!


The Unexpected Messiah

From time immemorial humans have looked to their deities for the one who will save them from the fate of being human. Some look for a divine being to sweep away all the ravages that life on this small oceaned rock makes life hard, often miserable, sometimes fatal. Some look for a warrior of incomparable strength to save them from their enemies so they can live in peace. Some look for a leader so wise that all the uncertainties of life can be answered and life can be simple.

The visions of what this messiah should be are as numerous as the peoples who have walked through the journey of life. Priests, shamans, sages, seers have scoured what they considered sacred for clues to this One, so that they would be ready for that Great Arrival. And countless men and women have claimed they were the one, often kings, queens, emperors and empresses. Many as in Egypt would claim they were the gods incarnate.

A god incarnate. What a ridiculous idea. But humans never stopped looking.

God slipped in nearly unnoticed. Even the Israelites believed they had figured out what the messiah had to be. It is not their fault that they were looking in the wrong direction. So was everyone else.

He came from the wrong place, from the wrong time, and from the wrong family. For God, however, it was perfect. And for two thousand years those who have recognized God’s cleverest act since creation itself, celebrate both the event and the mystery. He is still the unexpected Messiah.

Nativity Icon, 7th Century, St. Catherine's Monastery, Egypt

Nativity Icon, 7th Century, St. Catherine's Monastery, Egypt

Darkness into Light

Psalm 18:28: “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”

Canaanite Oil Lamp, Reproduction of Circa 1500-600 B.C. in use at the time of King David

Canaanite Oil Lamp, Reproduction of Circa 1500-600 B.C. in use at the time of King David

Candles and Christmas just seem to go together. Even though I have more than enough electric lights in my house, I love to have candles burning at Christmastime. Maybe it’s because the days are short with dusk falling quickly in the afternoon, and a candle’s glowing flame warms the whole room in a way no light bulb can. Or maybe it’s that wonderful sense of anticipation each Sunday when we light the Advent Candle to remember the peace, joy, love and hope the Christ Child will bring into the world.

A thousand years before Jesus’ birth, King David reflected on God’s work in his life. Perhaps gazing into his oil lamp, David, in a moment of poetic prophecy, sees God’s action in the world as the source of all light. Yes, through creation, but now God opens David’s mind’s eye and gives him a glimpse of God’s true intention for the redemption of all humanity: “my God turns my darkness into light.” His words flash across the millennia, the harbinger of a tsunami of light splashing across a night’s sky crackling with the voice of a holy messenger, “Behold I bring you good tidings, of great joy, for today in the city of David is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord!”

And that One, the Incarnation of David’s vision, would say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)