“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”Matthew 4:16
At this time of year when the days grow shorter and shorter it’s no wonder we long for light. Ancient cultures abound with legends of some mischievous being stealing the sun and plunging the world into cold despair. It seems that somewhere deep inside us we humans aren’t so sure that the light is going to return. We wonder if we will be swallowed up in darkness in whatever form it may come to us—physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Mercifully our ancestors did not leave themselves or us hopeless. In the face of great darkness and the threat of the sun’s disappearance they created celebrations of light. The bonfires, rhythmic drumming and animated singing encouraging the sun to return slowly evolved into more formal observances by the various world faiths and cultures.
Christmas is a part of this great tradition. Jesus’ birth narrative is filled with light. The angels bringing the good news of God’s Presence among people are beings of light. The bright Star of Bethlehem guided the persistent Wise Men on their long journey to find the Christ Child. The age-old prophecy about a coming Messiah spoke always of light. In his ministry Jesus made it clear that the light is in all of us. And he was firm that our job in life is to find and shine that light. For this we came.
We honor Jesus’ birth when we open our minds and hearts to festivals of light observed by other faith and cultural traditions at this time of year. Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish victory against incredible odds over the Syrian-Greek army in the second century BCE. One of the first acts of restoration for the Jewish nation was the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Wanting to re-light the Menorah, the sacred Light, the entire Temple was searched, but only one jar of pure oil bearing the seal of the High Priest was found. That small jar of oil miraculously burned for eight days straight, until a new supply of oil could be brought. To publicize this historic victory and the miracle of the oil, Jews today observe a Festival of Lights for eight days – lighting a menorah for eight nights. This year Hanukkah is celebrated December 22 – 30.
Another well-known festival of light that takes place at this winter solstice time is Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa, an African American and pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community and culture was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. It is celebrated from December 26 – January 1. Kwanzaa’s origins are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa from which it takes its name—”matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Kwanzaa is a celebration of bringing forth the good through the practice of Seven Principles, Nguzo Saba. These are Umoja – Unity; Kujichagulia – Self-determination; Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility; Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics; Nia – Purpose; Kuumba – Creativity; and Imani – Faith. Candles symbolizing the seven principles are lit and feasts, song, dance, poetry, story-telling, and deep reflection mark this special festival.
As you behold the Light in every person, every tradition, and every culture this season, your heart, mind, and soul will fill to overflowing. Together we are the Light of the world!
In the Love and Light of the Christ,