Long before Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the third century AD, long before the custom of Christmas became a worldwide phenomenon, cultures across the globe celebrated Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this mysterious event occurs when the tilt of the Earth puts us at the farthest distance from the sun, after which every day grows a minute or two longer and every night a minute or two shorter. As it is with Earth, so it seems with our individual and collective lives; spring follows winter, light overcomes darkness, again and again, as our great religions proclaim.
Meteorological winter is only beginning, but it sometimes feels as though the barren season has long been with us. Millions lack food, medical care, safe housing, or basic human rights. To tune in to the nightly news is to wonder if we have been condemned to an eternal winter of despair by the White Witch, as was the Kingdom of Narnia. If we are to find any peace amidst the chaos, the great sages advise, we have to seek it within ourselves.
Jesus Christ urged his followers to love their enemies, to refrain from judgment, to care for the least among us. His words offer a way to respond to unfathomable suffering, to seek transformative wisdom. Those who follow Christ and believe the story of His Holy birth are sometimes thought naïve or ignorant of science. Improbable miracles are not unique to Christianity. The Talmud tells us of Hanukkah, the wonder of the single cruse of oil that lit the temple Menorah for eight days. Buddhist texts tell of Guatama Buddha’s miraculous powers of telepathy, super hearing, and seeing of past lives. Think what you will of the ancient stories, I hold them dear.
On the silent, joyful nights of Advent, Hannukah, and Kwanza, on the eve of solstice, we are surrounded by the strange, the otherworldly, the glorious. Beyond the supernatural wonders are extraordinary human feats. There are the peacemakers and educators working to build up their communities and vulnerable neighbors. There are the healthcare workers caring for us on the home front and in war-torn countries. There are the spiritual leaders tirelessly reminding us of our divine, lost lineage. There are the artists who share their beautiful and inspired visions. These Earth angels give us many reasons to believe.
In the bleak days of winter, when darkness falls early, when the sad events of the day weigh heavily upon us, we can set down our phones, turn off the news, and think about every day miracles. You have probably experienced at least one or two in your life. And we can celebrate, in our assorted ways, the victory of light over darkness.