I lived in Ireland for almost sixteen years and the thing I miss about Advent and Christmas since returning to Australia is the lack of darkness. It made December a special time. The long cold, wet, dark nights not only made for a more festive atmosphere and keener appetites but they also made more sense of Advent and Christmas spiritually and liturgically. Candles were especially meaningful. During Advent we had the special Advent and Christmas candles and they were beautiful in the semi-darkness and not rendered meaningless by our blinding sun. The candles I remember most were the ones I saw on a drive to visit friends in County Clare for New Year. I drove down in the early evening and was pleasantly surprised by the number of families who were burning candles in their front windows to welcome the visitor and the wanderer.
Christmas is the celebration of light shining in the darkness. In the northern hemisphere it comes just after the winter solstice, just after the shortest day of the year. In the middle of a seemingly interminable winter the days begin to get longer and everyone celebrates the hope that the winter darkness will not last forever. But it is much more difficult to celebrate “the light that shines in the darkness, a light that the darkness will never put it out” when the sun is shining so brightly that we have to wear hats, sunglasses, 50+ factor sunscreen and zinc cream on our noses.
Yet even in our sun-drenched country we face the same fundamental spiritual problems, where do we find our reasons for hope, the energy to love and a light in our hearts that darkness, worries and cynicism will never put out.
Every New Year hope springs again in a small way when we make our New Year’s resolutions. Most of mine revolve around either becoming trim and taut or in my better self, more prayerful, generous and just. But they rarely seem to work.
Seriously I believe we will have more energy to live fully, spiritually and hopefully in 2016 if we remember the central message of both Christmas, namely that light and hope begin in darkness. Jesus was the light who came into the world to battle darkness and was almost crushed by it. “It was night” when he was betrayed (John 13:30). It was almost as if darkness had to reach its greatest power for the light to begin to shine again. So too for us we find hope by turning up during the darkness and doing the right and generous thing, by continuing to be just and to love even when it does not seem to be working or worthwhile. Advent is our opportunity to acknowledge the darkness in our lives and prepare for the Light.
Despite the glitter, Christmas is not meant to be the magical moment that removes us from the realities of life. Instead it is a celebration that the light has begun to shine again and the winter darkness will not last forever. I hope that your 2016 is graced and full of light and hope even if you have to wear sunscreen.
Columban missionaries thank The Broken Bay Institute for their articles. Visit: www.bbi.catholic.edu.au.
Fr Noel Connolly SSC is a Columban missionary priest. He is a member of the Columban Mission Institute in Sydney and a lecturer in Missiology at both the Broken Bay Institute and the Catholic Institute of Sydney. He has worked in many Australian Dioceses in programmes to welcome, enable and help integrate overseas priests and religious.