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The Darkest Night of the Year*

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Recent movies: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan***; Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956)*****; Horsefeathers****

Current books: II Thess.-II Tim.; Kazo Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God; various articles on Kitamori; GURPS handbooks; C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet; C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength; Emil Brunner, The Mediator; I Jn. (tr.)


The calendar-keepers, of course, got it wrong -- if they were better theologians (say, as good as Over The Rhine), when they shuffled dates in the reforms, they'd've kept Christmas matched to the Solstice, the darkest night of the year. Every hymn-writer knows this instinctively -- even Phillips Brooks smashed a grand slam with his little ditty. If you want to say, "The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light," and your festival date is arbitrary, but symbolic, the riposte gives you everything, the risks, so little by compare.

To juxtapose the deepest day of night, in the season of darkness, of death of the old, the turning of the year, with the descent to us of the light of the world, the light which is the life of Adam and Eve, the ordinary bloody birthing of the God who is born to die, even, born to place the whole price of darkness on himself, to lie in the grave until awakened by the Spirit, well, that juxtaposition, friends, is damn well something to write home about. It is only that the nervous nellies were afraid, probably, of "over-identifying with paganism", or some such blather, that has left us this unpalatable slop, with a holy day just left hanging out there, not really anywhere in the month -- just late, not even close enough to The End Of The Year to use it as an excuse (though juxtaposing inaugurated eschatology with Year's End would've been worth at least points for effort). Instead, an effort to redeem, to embrace the world's Saturnalias, is spoiled by a lack of steel in the nerves. Yes! Yes, we're having a solstice celebration of our own, you might say - let our John tell you a little tale of the darkest night: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The mystery kept hidden for ages is not just that life follows death -- but, how: Jesus, born according to the promise, was put to death for our sins, and raised from the dead for our justification, that all who believe in him may have life eternally. I think that is worth a feast, a foretaste of the feast to come - that whenever we drink, we drink in remembrance of Him.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

-- Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

* = Title and insight, courtesy of Over The Rhine's album by that title

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