Advent is a time to pause, listen and look back on the past year, writes Columban missionary, Sr Rebecca Conlon.
There is much to ponder. Mother Earth is suffering. There have been droughts and famine in some places while in Pakistan there have been floods of epic proportions. War broke out in Europe with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine causing pointless destruction and resulting in many experiencing fuel poverty in a cold winter. The poor are the worst affected. Refugees continue to flee from places all over the world seeking shelter and hospitality, but that can be in short supply as the ‘flight into Egypt’ reminds us.
Christmas is the season of hope. It is a light in the darkness of winter, symbolised in the glow of the candle. The Celts honoured the winter solstice on 21st December, the darkest and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, as an awesome time and a powerful symbol of light penetrating darkness.
Five thousand years ago in Newgrange (Ireland) a passage burial tomb was built in which the sun, at its lowest point in the sky on the winter solstice, enters the heart of the tomb. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens so that the whole chamber is dramatically illuminated. It is a journey out of darkness to light – a turning point when the sun pauses on its journey north, changes course, and then begins to return on its journey south. It is a powerful symbol of light penetrating darkness.
Many believe that the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, was set to synchronize with the December solstice when earth was in its darkest moment and so, Jesus, the Light of the World, entered our world at this point bringing hope. Isaiah spoke about: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. On those who live in a land of deep shadow, a light has shone.”
Irish poet, priest and philosopher, John O’Donoghue wrote once: “At the Winter Solstice the divine presence stirs in the crib of the heart infusing our eyes with the glow of wonder.”
We know what wonder is when we see the light in the eyes of children waiting for Santa. Wonder is linked with faith and as the children enjoy their wonderland, others sit in wonder at the crib, or gaze at the star, remembering that Jesus, the Son of God, became man to BE our Light. Look at the tree, decorated and lit up, a symbol of light shining on our lives where there may be shadows and darkness.
Let us light our candle of wonder this Christmas and allow the Light of Christ, the Prince of Peace, illuminate every corner of our lives, homes and the whole world with peace and love.
Sr Rebecca Conlon is a member of the leadership team of the Columban Sisters. She was one of the first group of Columbans Sisters to go to Pakistan in 1990. She has also served on mission in Korea and the Philippines.