LIGHTING THE CANDLE
Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the LORD and relies upon his God?
Tonight at 10:02 pm Coordinated Universal Time, the earth will tip to its farthest point from the sun, taking us into the longest night of the year and winter, to boot. This momentous turning of the earth has long been called the “Solstice”, coming from the Latin solstitium, a combining of sol, “sun”, and sistere, “to stand still.” This translates into “the standing still of the sun.” Now the sun appears to rise at the same point each day, halting its circuit from north to south and back again. In other words, the sun appears to hang in limbo.
This is why the ancient Celts called these days, Dumanios, “The Darkest Depths.” During this time, known as the famine months, starvation was common. The harsh winter, lengthening darkness, dying vegetation and frozen ground meant that the fall harvest would have to carry people through to the spring. People were often fearful that the “standing still sun” might not ever return to them.
Thus, many stories were spun to explain the mystery of the darkness. They concocted superstitious rituals trying to coax back the sun. Where I live in the American Southwest, Hopis and Zunis believed the sun god had traveled away from them and needed to be enticed to return. You can see slits dug into walls of dwellings through which the sun would shine on the day of the solstice. In the Phoenix area the Pre-Columbian Hohokam tribe marked mountains and other points to track the day of the solstice.
For us, this day not only marks greater physical darkness but also a day of greater spiritual darkness. Thankfully, we see in God’s Word that it is at such times of great darkness the light of God shines most brightly. As stars shine most brightly on our darkest nights, so does the light of God’s prophetic Word. In fact, many of the scriptures we read during Advent and Christmas were first spoken to people in times of great darkness.
Today’s scripture comes during a time of intense suffering for God’s people Israel. Jerusalem has been destroyed, the temple burned, and people taken captive to pagan Babylon. In such a dark time the Holy Spirit points to God’s coming Servant, Jesus Messiah, and asks: “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?” Who will follow Jesus in dark times?
Jesus is the eternal Son of God who humbled Himself to become human and take on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5-7). As God’s Servant, Jesus was afflicted, persecuted, and forsaken (Isaiah 50:6; 53:3-4). It was as God’s Servant that Jesus felt darkness closing in, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Yet, Jesus followed His cry of dereliction with a prayer of trust: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
So all true servants of the Lord, like the Servant, know days of darkness. God has no child who has not sometimes endured trouble. It is easy to trust God when our way is bright, but difficult when our way is dark. Can we today hear the Holy Spirit calling us to keep our eyes on the Servant, Jesus? “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the LORD and relies upon his God?” Let us, like Jesus, put our trust in the Lord and commend our lives to Him. Our Father will faithfully see us through with the light of His love!
A few years after World War II, a poem was found carved on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany. The cellar was a place where Jews hid during the Holocaust. The words of the poem have been translated: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.”
So at this dark time of the solstice, we light our candles, believing in God’s steadfast love!
PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP
Abba, help us, like you helped Jesus, to place our trust in you for the challenges we face. Help us to be faithful when our way is dark, and to believe in the sunshine of your love. Stand with Christian brothers and sisters who walk in darkness, and strengthen them to bear witness to your saving light. We pray this until the Day breaks upon us and we see the light of your face. Amen.