I once heard that Christmas was celebrated at the time it was because it was the time that pagans celebrated the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. It was the time when people ran after candles and lampposts and fires, tried to beat back the darkness for the sake of the wild light that illumines, keeps safe, anchors. It was the time when the dark was long and the sunlight raced across the sky and it feels, it always feels, like light is a scarcity we must hoard for ourselves and keep close until summer comes again.
I’m not sure if that’s the entire reason Christmas is celebrated in December, or if there is something beyond that, but perhaps it isn’t as important as this word, light.
And all the poets who have used the word seem to take a step toward me in my quiet non-writing life these weeks, all the lines of poetry that echo through the hallways of other years:
somewhere overhead, the geese are turning into light again – David Whyte
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear. – Richard Wilbur
She is awake and stars at scars of light – Mark Strand
he fixes a funnel of mirrors, a trap for light. – May Swenson
I think of the word, “light” the way it cuts us off even as we want it to go on forever, sounding the promise of seeing. I think of the way that we hunger and wonder for the light, the way it moves, the way it must move, beyond us.
And you and I today are the people who have walked in this great darkness, these lengthening shadows, and today we are the people who must, who must always, turn our hearts in Advent towards the coming of the light.
And on us, who have dwelled in a land of deep darkness, on us the light has dawned.
Can you see it now, the shimmers of it on each other’s faces? Can you see how it begins to warm us, color our eyes bright with its beams? Can you feel, just softly at first, how even the promise that we have been walking in darkness, even the word light, stops our hearts short with its certainty?
Might we be the people who turn to light again.