The Science Behind the Light of the World
Updated: Sep 15
Last night I came home from doing some Christmas shopping, and I stopped and stood in the driveway a moment, looking up at the sky. It was cold out. The moon was mostly covered by the clouds, so it was dark and gloomy. I could still make out the bare, naked trees nearby. The world seemed so still and quiet. It felt peaceful, but dark, like I wanted to retreat inside to my warm house and crawl into my warm bed. Such a cold, dark time of year.
But it’s Christmas time!
Have you ever wondered why Christmas is celebrated near the end of December, at the coldest, darkest time of year? Around year 336, the Roman Emperor Constantine decided Christmas would be celebrated on December 25th, not because that was the day Jesus was born, but because it was a day close to the Winter Solstice festivals. People were already celebrating, so he thought it made sense to lump Christmas in there, too. Actually, there’s a little more to the story that just that…
The Winter Solstice occurs on Dec. 21st or 22nd. It’s the day where there is the shortest time between the sun rising and the sun setting. It’s the “shortest day of the year.” To pagans, this meant that the winter was over and spring was coming. They had a festival to celebrate it, and they worshipped the sun for winning over the darkness of winter.
Most people in the United States don’t really notice this day much because of where we are in relation to the sun. Most parts of the country get 8 or 9 hours of daylight on the Winter Solstice. It’s just another regular day. But in other places in the world, it’s a really prominent, noticeable issue. For instance, in Fairbanks, Alaska, the shortest day of the year gets about 3 hours and 41 minutes of daylight. You would probably notice that (and all the dark days leading up to it!) There’s a city in Norway called Bodo, and their winter solstice day gives them just 49 minutes of daylight. That’s it. 49 minutes! Don’t blink, or you might miss it.
You can see why people who live in darkness are really going to appreciate the solstice. It would be something to celebrate! It’s a promise of the light to come. They know when they wake up the next day, there will be more light than the day before. It might just be a little more light, but it’s a turning point for them. More light the next day, and then a little bit more the day after that, a little more the day after that, and then, next thing you know, spring is here.
I’m sure you see the connection here to Christmas. Christians believe that Jesus is the light of the world, so the early Christians thought that this was the right time to celebrate His birth. The birth of Jesus is a promise from God. No matter how full of darkness our life is, no matter how much we feel separated from God--even if we choose to live in the darkness of our mistakes, even if we lack an understanding of God’s principles… the light is still coming. Darkness does not prevail.
(The light is actually always here, within us, but that's a story for another blog post.)
The Winter Solstice, the “coming of the light,” is a planetary natural scientific thing that has nothing to do with religion. You can calculate it. There is no question about whether you believe that the days following the solstice will have more light. It’s a guarantee—a scientific fact. It automatically happens every year, without fail. The planets spin, and the sun has “victory” over darkness. We can trust in it.
There is nothing better than resting and trusting in our faith like that. I don’t know about you, but this gives me a tremendous feeling of peace, knowing something so deeply. I invite you to take this scientific concept and the spiritual principle of the Winter Solstice into your heart today.
Take a moment to dwell on it, welcome it, accept it, and give thanks for it.
Those of us who walk in darkness will see a great light.
Those of us who live in a land of deep gloom, on us, a light will shine.
In the glow of God’s grace, we are always loved.
Let us allow the revelation: our unity with the light of the world.
Let the revelation brighten your soul.
Let your soul shine out in the world!
Say this out loud:
The light is coming.
The light is here.
I am the light.
I am part of the mystery and the wonder of it all.
With gratitude, I embody the light
Now, I bring my light into the world.
Happy Winter Solstice. Merry Christmas. May you be blessed.
Rev Cynthia McCarthy