Only in the darkness can you see the stars. – Martin Luther King Jr.
Many people dislike this time of year because the daylight doesn’t last as long as it does earlier in the year. People who have to report in for work find they’re driving to the office around sunrise and coming home at sunset or nearly dark. Those people with Seasonal Affective Disorder suffer increased times of depression and stress simply because they require more sunlight than is available due to the earth’s tilt and rotation in relation to the sun. I wonder whether people with SAD live in the Arctic Circle, and if so, how they cope.
With darkness comes colder temperatures. Even in Arizona’s desert in the summertime, the nighttime temperature may drop by only ten degrees. In winter, the change can be thirty degrees or more. There are days (and nights) in the northern climates where the temperature does not rise above zero. Winter is a time to stay indoors and drink hot cocoa and watch the fireplace flames dance.
It’s a pity that we seldom go out in winter simply to look up at the skies. Stars shine during the dark hours (and, honestly, during the daytime as well) all year, changing as the earth rotates, so we see different stars and constellations. During the day, the light of the sun renders the stars invisible. As soon as the sun sinks into the horizon, the stars begin to shine. When the darkness is absolute, we can observe the millions of stars and planets forming the canopy of our sky. Dr. King was perfectly right – only in the darkness can we see the stars.
I remember the joy of walking home from church after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. There would still be enough artificial light that would keep me from seeing all the stars in that part of the sky, but, I could see more at Christmastime than usual. Like tiny diamonds twinkling on a field of dark blue velvet, they made the space between earth and the heavens a much thinner veil than usual.
Even if I can’t see the stars, I can see colored lights my neighbors have put up shining in the darkness like glowing jewels. Sometimes there are artificial candles in the windows, like miniature lighthouses, reaching out to draw in both the stranger and the home folks into the warmth and light. It’s a reminder of the saving force of light, which we celebrate in this season of seemingly endless darkness.
Jesus taught that no one lights a candle and hides it under a bushel basket (Matt: 5:15, Mark 4:21b). What good would it do to do that? Not to mention, it would probably cause a fire and burn the house down. Candles are lit to provide light so that we can work a little later than sunset, or so we can read, talk, tell stories, sing, and strengthen bonds between those who share the light.
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross observed that stained-glass windows are beautiful when the sunlight hits them. The light goes from outside in, splashing the interior with patches of color. At night, though, if the building is lit inside, the stained glass glows visible, warm, and welcoming. That is the kind of light Jesus wants us to present, just as he did through his life, ministry, death, and resurrection.
His light makes this season what it is, a time of expectation, increasing light from the Advent wreath, marking the weeks until the Christ Candle. Then the Baptismal candle is lit, lightening the darkness and bringing hope, love, and unity.
How can we be the little candles that lighten the world? What is it that would make us shine with the love of Christ, visible to those around us? How can we be light-bearers to a world where darkness seems to prevail, even during daylight?
As we approach the Fourth Sunday in Advent, let us look to the stars that twinkle in the darkness and the candles that lighten it. Next week we will welcome the Light of Christ into the world, an event we commemorate and look forward to every year.
Let our lights shine among humankind. What a gift it would be for the Newborn King.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.