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Dec202014

Advent, December 20, 2014 Winter Solstice begins

In the Northern Hemisphere of planet Earth, today is the longest night and shortest day. From this point forward, the light begins to brighten the sky at dusk, when days will lengthen bit by bit and require our patience. All good things take time.

Centuries ago, farming stopped when the ground froze after the time of harvest. There was no choice but to wait out the harshness of winter. Communities gathered to celebrate the harvest’s yield that would carry them through another winter until the ground thawed and planting could begin anew. They regarded the year like a wheel that could be slowly turned as days became longer, bringing with every push the promise of another year of survival, of work, of a good harvest and worthy yield.

While they waited for the ground to thaw, they gathered and celebrated “Yuletide” (wheel) with singing, dancing, the sharing of food and generosity toward those people whose crops may not have done so well as their neighbors and heat and clothing for those who great need. Patience was mandatory: farmers and their families and communities waited the winter out for survival. As the days became longer and the ground thawed, they prepared to return to their labor because their lives depended on the work of their hands in cooperation with the seasons of Mother Earth.

To some degree, the simplicity of a way of life still exist in the Northern Hemisphere. People gather on Christmas Eve in one another’s homes, cut down and decorate their trees together, share food and drink together and go to church services as the bells announce the call to worship to celebrate the birth of Christ. However, the mantra I hear repeated over and over again is “Have you finished your Christmas shopping?” While I’m very grateful for post modern conveniences, I admit that the part of way of life of past generations of long ago appeals to me on several levels, when communities depended on the earth and one another throughout the long winters to sustain them.

The Yule celebrations that lasted for weeks look particularly tempting, especially when I encounter so many people who consider “Yuletide” as a time of stress, anxiety, depression, despair, addiction and loneliness. Progress in many ways seems to be yanking our chains that imprison us rather than freeing us, enabling deep poverty rather than slathering us with the wealth of not only happiness but deep gratitude and joy at the birth of Jesus, the Christ who liberates us not only from our own prisons but from death itself.

Today’s O Antiphon sings a hymn of liberation that cuts through the darkness and lights the way to God’s reign, here and now.

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven:

Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,

And lead your captive people into freedom.

O Come, Emmanuel.

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