Today’s Word from Reverend Dave Bieniek…

This is by far the most difficult time of the year for me to live in the Pacific Northwest. These days many of us go to work when it is barely light outside and come home in the dark. It only lasts for a few months, and I have learned several things to help with the darkness — like turning on every light in the house when I get home. Most of them are compact fluorescent or LED bulbs, so I don’t feel too guilty.

I do not think I could live any further north. As a child I remember learning about Alaska as the “Land of the Midnight Sun,” and thinking how cool it would be to live in a place with almost 24 hours of daylight. I now realize that all good things also have a downside.

What the darkness has taught me about this time of the year is how many spiritual paths have created rituals at this time of year around light. It makes perfect sense for those people who did not have fluorescent bulbs to flip on. They lit fires, put candles in the window, and told stories of happier, warmer, and safer times. They longed for the return of the light, and they basked in the warmth of love of families and friends.

For Christians, yesterday began the season of Advent. For 4 weeks before Christmas, when the Light of the World would be born, Christians light 4 candles around an evergreen wreath. The circle of the wreath and the evergreen boughs reminded people of the circle of life and the everlasting power of life, love, and light. As the weeks go forward into an even darker time, more candles are lit. It culminates with the birth of Christ who is seen as the Eternal Light shining forth in the darkness and dispelling fear and hate.

And yet many of these practices harken back to an older time when the Celts would light candles on huge wreaths of evergreen boughs called the “Wheel of Life” to remind them of the power of life to overcome death and the power of light to overcome darkness. These wreaths would be hoisted up into the rafters of the house so everyone could be reminded of the hope that comes from light.

The Celts also began the practice of lighting the Yule Log and allowing it to burn during the darkest time to dispel not only the dark and the cold but also the wild animals that might come to steal life of family or livestock. The log was cut from an ancient tree. As it burned, the spirit of the tree was released to provide further comfort and protection to the village.

The Jewish people also practice a celebration of light called Hanukkah. The celebration also involved increasing light of candles as the Menorah (or Hanukkiah) reminded all Jews not only of the Miracle of the Oil, in which the Temple was able to be rededicated, but also helped to dispel the darkness and cold as families gathered around the light of 9 little candles. These candles were often placed in the window to invite others into the light and the hospitality of the home.

In addition to the lights of the Christmas season, which bring joy and comfort to children and adults alike, the season of Kwanzaa also incorporates candles being lit on the kinara representing the 7 principles that we strive to live by. Kwanzaa stretches out for a week beyond Christmas reminding families that even when faced with trouble and darkness, we have the power to change our lives and rededicate our spirit to the building up of the community around us.

The dark season often culminates in a few different celebrations of the New Year. Whether it is the common calendar New Year or the Lunar New Year of the Chinese and other Asian cultures, they are celebrated with fireworks and wild merry making, truly a way to celebrate life and dispel the darkness.

So perhaps the darkness of this time of year is important. It reminds us of the time when the light will return and challenges us to find the light that continues even in the darkness – the light of our loved ones, the light of peace, and the light of our own self-determination.

So, go ahead, flip on those lights, but also don’t forget to light the candle as well.

“Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.”

In light, peace, and hope,
Pastor Dave