Here in the Northern hemisphere we are approaching the nadir of the year, December 21st, the shortest day. Nadir comes from an Arabic word meaning ‘opposite’, referring here to the opposite of the zenith, which is the highest point in the celestial sphere. The nice thing about opposites is that when you get all the way to the end you meet the other coming towards you – which is what Advent is about too.
If you’re in the southern hemisphere, the same date is the longest day. From this point the days get lighter or darker, longer or shorter. It’s hard to believe, deep in a Northern winter, that the days are really getting longer but they are and eventually you have to believe it. So also in the cyclical revolution of our own lives, ascends merge into new beginnings and periods of darkness and hopelessness generate a new dawn. All we have to do is stay the course, persevere till the end, and the transformation happens. As the rabbi said, ‘God does not expect us to be perfect but we are not allowed to give up.’
St John says that ‘God is light and in God there is no darkness at all’ (1Jn 1:5). This is a fundamental Christian insight into the divine paradox where opposites are united. For every statement we make about God we have to allow for the opposite. What seems so often like an enemy, a disrupter or a negation is quickly rejected. But in our impatience and insecurity we miss the bounce effect when the meeting of opposites brings about a truly happy marriage. God who is light is also complete darkness, whom ‘no one has ever seen or can see’, living in a light that ‘no one can even come near’ (1 Tim 6:16).
As the union of opposites, God is light and darkness. This union is the absolute nature of peace, not as the world gives it’ but as God pours it out beyond understanding. We prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at the bounce-point when the shortest grows and the darkest becomes lighter. Yes, God reveals himself but He also hides in what He reveals. This happened when the Godhead poured himself into the human vessel of Jesus. Some glimpsed, some guessed, some saw for a moment but couldn’t trust what they felt. Others were shocked and frightened at what was being revealed within them. That fear of light leads to the greatest of all rejections of reality. The Christmas story contains the dark shadow cast by any intense light when it is blocked.
Does this encounter with paradox help us to move into ‘enlightenment’? Surely, we pray, meditate, act, think and talk so we can better understand. Or do we? Perhaps we meditate not to see more clearly or understand the mystery better so that we can better become the mystery, by sharing in the nature of God. Enlightenment is not about seeing the light but becoming the light.
In our darkest days we can emit and radiate the light of our own spirit, which is never less than the divinising light. This light penetrates our darkest moments and deeds. At the end of the cycle, light is irresistible. Darkness can bear to resist no longer – and that is what makes Christmas happy.