O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
And why not? We sing this verse at Vespers on the 20th (in Anglican tradition) or on the 21st (in Roman Catholic and Western Rite Orthodoxy). So it comes either side of the “longest night”, which can fit both the night of the 20th-21st as well as the 21st-22nd. The solstice traditionally being marked on the 21st at sunrise in the cultures of the European North. What has any of that to do with us? It’s totally incorrect to say that “Christmas was a pagan holiday that Constantine’s Church stole. There are a LOT of articles out there about this, but my favorite, and the oldest, I think, is by an old friend of this blog (in a previous incarnation), Dr William Tighe: Calculating Christmas lays out all the reasons that 25 December was not “stolen” and, quite possibly, is Jesus’ actual birthday.
And why not?
I believe Jesus is not only God incarnate but the entire reason for the universe, the sum total of all history and the omega point from which all other events are only typological shadows. The Incarnation was not “Plan B” after a surprising mistake in the garden. God is all-knowing: the fall was expected, the need for salvation understood, and the Incarnation was the idea all along. Christmas – and Easter 33 years later – was the entire point.
The Jews had all of their prophetic history from Abraham until John the Baptist to prepare them for the coming of Messiah. The rest of the world did not have these things. Yet, as Christ was brought to them, they saw the truth and were ready. What prepared them?
And all of nature – including the Winter Solstice itself – is set up by God to point the way to his own glory: the Fathers teach that Nature, herself, is the first Bible. “All the earth is a memorial to thee, a presence of thy works” (Odes of Solomon, 11). And Saint Maximus the Confessor points out that the sun itself is a sign of Christ. ” The Sun that rises and illumines the world, it makes itself visible as well as the objects it illumines. It is the same with the Sun of Righteousness. When he rises in a mind that has been purified, he makes himself scene in addition to the logoi of the objects he has created.”
The Vikings did not have the Old Testament: they had Odin hanging on his tree for wisdom, though, and the Winter Solstice. The Celts did not have the Old Testament, but the entire nation of Ireland converted without bloodshed or protest. American Indians, Aztecs, Mayans, they all saw something they couldn’t reject. The Chinese, too, and the Indians, saw something in this strange, incarnate God from Israel that met their local, already prepared souls. Each one saw something foretold in their cultures, and each one found it fulfilled in Christ.
And why not? If God can work through the Hebrew prophets, the religious leaders of a “stubborn and stiff-necked people,” to bring about the Blessed Virgin Mary and her divine Son, Jesus, then what can he bring about through the rest of us? Isaiah even calls King Cyrus (of Persia) the Messiah! Thus says the Lord to his anointed, (that is “Messiah” in Hebrew) to Cyrus, whom he has taken by his right hand to subdue nations before him and strip the loins of kings, to force gateways before him that their gates be closed no more: I will go before you levelling the heights. I will shatter the bronze gateways, smash the iron bars. I will give you the hidden treasures, the secret hoards, that you may know that I am the Lord. (Isaiah 45:1–3) Elsewhere (I’m having trouble finding it, to be honest…) God says to Israel, I’ve called you, but I’ve also called these other peoples to do other things.” And so God was at work everywhere.
The Church even commemorates Augustus Caesar on Christmas, noting in the Martyrology for 25 December, that the incarnation happened, “in the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, when the whole world was at peace”. The traditional teaching being that God arranged even the Roman Empire so that there was a common language, and roads, and trade among all so that the faith could be spread that much further.
So, “you’re only saying Jesus was born now to imitate the pagans.” No, actually, Jesus was born now exactly to imitate the pagans: they’re expecting him.
And why not? He’s their God, too.