Advent is a beautiful time of the year. The word “advent” actually comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “arrival”. Historically, this is a time set aside to remind ourselves how the Jews must have felt as they awaited the arrival of Messiah. In like manner, we are filled with longing and expectation as we await the second coming of Jesus. However, as we wait, we celebrate the truth that the Presence of God is here, with us. His kingdom is breaking in with joy, peace, and hope.
This last week, I was preparing for a talk at Vinelife, and I stumbled on an interesting historical nugget. I never knew why we celebrated Christ’s birth at the end of December. I figured it was an arbitrary day picked by the wise old men who canonized the Bible sometime in the Middle Ages.
It turns out that originally, the Christians were celebrating Christ’s birth on Three Kings Day which was January 6th. At the same time, there were pagans that celebrated Winter Solstice at the end of December. Winter Solstice is the time when the sun reaches it’s southernmost point of the year (in the northern hemisphere). After this day, our days get brighter and brighter. The pagans actually called it the day of the “Unconquered Sun”, because it was a sign that the sun could not be defeated. So, Christians would celebrate Christ’s birth just a couple of weeks after this pagan sun holiday.
At around 350 A.D., the church fathers came to the conclusion that Christ’s birth was also a celebration of the “Unconquered Sun” as Jesus was the unbeatable light of the world (John 1). Instead of fighting the pagans for this celebration, they decided to redeem what they already identified correctly – we are all placing our hope in the “Unconquered Sun” (and Son).
Today is December 21st which is the Winter Solstice and it will be the darkest day of the year. Up until this point, the light of each day has been shriveling before our eyes. For the last several months, we’ve been marveling at how early the sun has been setting each evening and wondering how it could get any earlier. We have had the chance to be reminded of the increasing darkness inside of us before Christ’s saving work on the cross. We’ve had a natural reminder that we have no hope in and of ourselves.
But after today, things will turn. And as we near the end of this month and celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, we can be reminded that a new day has come. The Light of the world has come to illuminate all that has been left in darkness. He is our hope and He is here. Jesus is the beautiful, nail-scarred, Unconquered Son.