In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)
The winter solstice and faith have long been dancing partners. Living in the depths of a dark, cold December, when sunlight is as rare a commodity as a mortgage from a British Bank, it is easy to see why. For many, the darkest time of the year provides no light-hearted relief from the solstice of the soul.
The light and long days of summer seem cruelly out of reach when one is enclosed in that deep darkness from which there seems to be no quick escape. For individuals, to be bereaved, depressed, abused, ill, outcast, in debt and fearful of redundancy or repossession, stressed or just not coping can be to find oneself in a winter solstice place where the world outside and the inner life of the soul are drawn together darkly and impenetrably. Little light seems to get in. Our view of the world around us becomes narrow, restricted; for long hours a confining darkness defines our outlook. Every now and then glimmers of light bounce off the oppressive walls of our soul's imprisonment.In these dark times we long for enlightenment.
Then as nations and peoples there is the winter solstice of race-hatred, persecution, armed conflict, economic oppression, climate change and a myriad other injustices which beset our common life on planet earth. Such attitudes and behaviours are formed in the dark, oppressive confines of narrow and exclusionist thinking. In these dark times we long for enlightenment.
So as faithful dancing partners we embrace the winter solstice with all the hopefulness and courage we can muster. Do not be afraid. Light is coming. Outlooks can broaden and change. The shepherds experienced this for themselves. In the deep, dark night of their winter solstice experience, the glory of God's love enabled them to see differently. In the midst of their terror and uncertainty they were promised that they were not alone. Even and especially those on the margins of life and coping are encouraged to see just how much they are cherished by God. In the light of this love, which blazes across the night sky, a whole vista of grace opens up; a 360 degree panorama of belonging, togetherness, inclusion and promise.
And all of this is met face to face in the Christ-child. And sometimes we simply need to wait alongside those trapped in dark experiences and, angel-like, hold the promise.In these dark times we long for enlightenment.