Julie Lyles Carr: Sunday Selah

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Selah

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.
John 10:17

It's not that I want to burst somebody's bubble.

Because I really don't.

But that whole "Jesus is the reason for the season"?

It's a little more complicated than that.

A little more multi-faceted, if you will.

Man has long struggled with fear at the time of the winter solstice. Days grow shorter and shorter, the sun seeming to recede from the earth. In ancient times, people often had entire rituals and sacrifices made at this time, all in an effort to appease whatever powers, trying to convince those powers to allow the sun to return.

Impending darkness does have tendency to bring out the superstitious in us.

It was the Norse people who strove to stave of the darkness of the solstice with a log. They would light the Yule log, as reminder of the sun's light, as a talisman against the dark.

The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a time of feasting and ruckus-making. It originally started as a way of boosting citizen morale after a crushing military defeat. Slaves would be allowed to become 'masters' for a bit and state-sponsored mayhem and merriment were the theme.

And during this period of solstice partying, the upper class and the officer ranks of the military would celebrate the birth of the sun god, Mithras, on December 25th. Born from a rock, Mithras was credited with being responsible for the return of the sun. His cult involved extensive rituals and initiations, including a literal baptism in blood for those who would be followers. This practice enjoyed the height of its popularity from the first century AD until the fourth century. While scholars quibble over some of the ebb and flow of the Mithras cult practices, its mysteries and popularities made it quite the exclusive club in its day.

Records from other cultures also record the importance to ancient peoples the ceremonies surrounding the winter solstice, the desire to satisfy the mercurial and capricious deities those cultures had designed for themselves.

And when the early Christian church was faced with the tide of tradition surrounding this time of year, when Constantine pragmatically thought through how to best bring his fellow Romans to a Christian paradigm, Saturnalia and covert celebrations of Mithras were morphed and modified to become a time to celebrate the birth of Christ.

I really don't intend to burst the bubble.

But integrity demands that we acknowledge Christ was not the reason for the season for many a moon.

Or sun, as the case may be.

But here is the beauty.

Jesus is the answer.

Jesus is the answer to this season.

When darkness swirls, when we wonder about how we will make it through the day, Jesus is the answer. When our culture elevates fame and fortune, idolatry and idiocy, Jesus is the answer.

When we create a merry mix of snowmen and reindeer, candy canes and cocoa, Saint Nick and Rudolph and a baby in a manger with a little drummer boy percussively standing by, Jesus is the answer.

Because, really, whether the sun comes up tomorrow or not, He is the Light. Whether the spring planting will bring a full harvest or not, He is the Bread of Life. Whether the days seem short and dark or long and glaring, He is the Hope.

He is the answer.

He is the answer for every season.

And that is reason to truly celebrate.


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