A Light in the Darkness
It is the darkest time of the year for most of us. The days are much shorter and at least once every three days someone during the past two weeks has opened the curtains or door in my house after 5:00 PM and said “My goodness! It is dark already!” I have to wonder what mankind thought centuries ago, long before scientists had given the seasons names and we understood the rotation of the planets around the sun and what the twinkling lights in the night sky really are.
It is said that in trying to explain their natural world, people created the myths of religion. Some of the greatest mysteries of nature that are explained in mythology are the origins of mankind, the four seasons, and how flowers got their colors and names. Basically, these myths were told because with the intention to bring people together. Stories were told to help people understand difficult ideas and help people in a community to think in the same way.
Advent is that time of year which seems a bit bipolar. If you are religious, most scripture readings discuss the end of the world, the end times as they are known. The end time (also called end times, end of time, end of days, last days, final days, or eschaton) is a future time-period described variously in the eschatologies of several world religions (both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic), which believe that world events will reach a final climax. Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events of the history of the world and/or mankind. Succinctly put, it is the doctrine of last times or things.
Advent is, however, the season that ushers in the highest order of a miracle possible – the human birth of a deity or deity-related offspring. A miracle is something which is statistically and scientifically impossible, as we understand such things and their realistic possibilities. A miracle is not easily explained by natural causes alone and quite often has the result of changing lives.
The myths told to explain the natural existence of the world and mankind were no less miraculous than those of various religions and their messiah or savior. This year the miracle of light in the Jewish tradition, Hanukah, began on Gregorian calendar date as the First Sunday in Advent. Both are symbolically celebrated with the lighting of a candle.
At this time of year when darkness is most prevalent in the natural world in the Northern Hemisphere, the symbolism of light is important. Ninety percent of the world’s population lives in the Northern Hemisphere and so most people are in the darkest time of the year now. Light also plays a prominent role in the discussion of the end times.
The Abrahamic faiths maintain a linear cosmology, with end-time scenarios containing themes of transformation and redemption. In Judaism, the term “end of days” makes reference to the Messianic Age and includes an in-gathering of the exiled Jewish diaspora, the coming of the Messiah, the resurrection of the righteous, and the world to come. Hanukah is the celebration to commemorate the lasting of one night’s oil for a lamp to give light miraculously lasting eight days.
Some sects of Christianity depict the end time as a period of tribulation that precedes the second coming of Christ, who will face the Antichrist along with his power structure and usher in the Kingdom of God. A popular theme in Christianity is that each person is “the light of the world”. Christians are encouraged not to hide their faith or the good works it should encourage.
In Islam, the Day of Judgement is preceded by the appearance of the al-Masih al-Dajjal, and followed by the descending of Isa (Jesus). Isa will triumph over the false messiah, or the Antichrist, which will lead to a sequence of events that will end with the sun rising from the west and the beginning of the Qiyamah (Judgment day). Since the sun normally rises in the east, the change would be miraculous in proclaiming the end of the world as we currently know it.
Non-Abrahamic faiths tend to have more cyclical world-views, with end-time eschatologies characterized by decay, redemption, and rebirth. In Hinduism, the end time occurs when Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu, descends atop a white horse and brings an end to the current Kali Yuga. In Buddhism, the Buddha predicted that his teachings would be forgotten after 5,000 years, approximately the year 2300 ACE on the Gregorian calendar. After this great turmoil is to follow, according to the Buddha. A bodhisattva named Maitreya is expected to appear and rediscover the teaching of dharma. The ultimate destruction of the world will then come through seven suns. Again, the proclaiming of seven suns will bring great light to the darkness of the end times.
Advent is considered a time of preparation. Then what, you might ask, are we to prepare? Should we become doomsday preppers? For four seasons the National Geographic Channel had a program entitled “Doomsday Preppers”. The program explored those preparing for a great apocalypse, the end of the world, and their efforts to survive such. As one who has walked through a category five hurricane and been caught in a tornado, I can appreciate their wanting to be prepared. The truth is, though, we all face catastrophes each week.
Advent for me is a time to prepare for living, not the end of it all. I think it is to our advantage to see beyond the turmoil and notice the everyday miracles that exist within life’s daily grind, the routine of living that has both joy and disorder. During this series we will discuss those everyday miracles and hopefully begin to see more of them in our own living.
Some people claim such everyday miracles are simply matters of coincidence. A coincidence is a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances that have no apparent causal connection with one another. Not much different than the definition of a miracle, huh? Sometimes our coincidences are very mundane. I took the dog out at 2:58 AM and noticed how brightly the constellation Orion appeared in the night sky. I came inside to see a movie about this constellation start on television. It was not really life-changing but it was a neat little coincidence that as the characters told two different myths about the same three stars (known as Orion’s belt), I could look out my window and see them in the night sky. For a moment, the fictional characters and I were connected.
Everyday miracles connect us to our living and those with which we share this planet. The light of the world is the same sun we share, the same gift of a smile we give to others. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize. A blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black curious eyes of a child, our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”