--Sarah Williams, “The Old Astronomer”
Dark days in our world right now, for those of us who call the northern hemisphere home. The darkest day of the whole year returns, the 21st of December, the longest night. On winter solstice, the sun doesn’t rise until 7:10 am and before we know it, at 4:15 pm, it is already on its way back down. Just nine hours and fifteen minutes of daylight. For contrast recall last June 21st, summer solstice. That day the sun rose at 5:14 am and set at 8:29 pm, 2015’s longest day: 15 hours, 15 minutes and 16 seconds, to be exact. That’s a head spinning six hour swing.
From day to night.
Late December is all about the night, more than at any other time. Dusky days diminish in natural light. Even at high noon on a clear December day the sunlight is subdued, slanted and diffuse. We arise in the shadows and come home in the dark. In these short days and long nights we face a choice: to push back the night, deny it, fight it, fear the night, even. Or do we dare to love the night and all that it brings?
That’s not so easy. The night and the dark always get a bad rap. It was in a darkened room as children that we first learned to fear the night with monsters under the bed and shadows on the wall. Dark is the absence of light, a negative definition. Read a novel and when do bad things always happen? At night. That’s when horror movies perpetually go south too. We fear nightmares, not “daymares”. When asked in a recent poll to name the very worst month of the year, 1,000 Americans ranked as the bottom three, the darkest months of the year: January, February and March.
But consider the gifts of the dark and the night. It was in the dark God formed us in our mother’s wombs, and for nine months we claimed those dark and warm waters as home. It is on the very darkest of nights, no moon in sight, no clouds above, when we see our place in the vast and amazing universe, as we look up, stars blazing away in an indigo sky. We see the work of the Creator and remember that all of life is made of the same star stuff. The dark and night reminds us that we need each other: a hand to hold on to as we traverse an icy driveway; loved ones to snuggle with in front of a warming fire on an ice cold night.
The night is fully democratic. The star I view from the safety of my suburban front porch is the exact same star a homeless man on Boston Common sees. The night reminds me that he needs me and I need him too. Together we each live in one miraculous and interdependent world, forever marked by the light and the dark, the day and the night. He is no stranger lurking in the shadows, to me. No: he’s a neighbor: on a cold winter’s night and like me, he needs what we all need: love, warmth, shelter, food, and care. The night teaches me this lesson. If we are going to wade into the night, let’s do it in community.
There is finally no escaping the dark and the night. It holds us for half of life. It returns every 24 hours, guaranteed. In the last days of the 12th month, the night and the dark are non-negotiable. Unless we plan to be on a plane, jetting to the southern hemisphere soon, we might as well lean right into the night. It is going to be here for awhile, so why not enjoy it? With a blinking Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer balanced on a rooftop. A Hanukkah menorah alight with candles. Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus camped out in a lonely ancient barn, lit up by the light of a bright star in the sky.
It is night. It is a good night. Come, December dark. Come.