Some of you know that I am quite a keen photographer. If you didn’t know before, you do now. Sometimes photography is called the art of painting with light. In fact, light is the most important part of photography. The best light for landscape pictures is found at sunrise and sunset, because the low sun shines with warm, yellowish and reddish colours, and the long shadows cast help to catch the patterns of the ground. About one year ago I wanted to take a picture of some cliffs at sunrise. Dawn in late winter has one great advantage: you don’t have to get up very early morning. Sunrise at 8:45am sounds good to me. Another favourable circumstance was a low tide. So, I went to a spot that I knew well. I set up my tripod with a camera on some rocky ground normally covered by the sea, and waited for the first beams of the sun. The weather was perfect. After the first fifteen minutes I had to shift my equipment higher, because the tide was coming in. The sun was still hidden behind a hill. Another fifteen minutes passed, and I had to shift my place again, because while the water continued to rise, the sun most assuredly did not. Again and again I had to shift my equipment as the tide continued its advance. My perfect spot on the rocks came to nothing, because that day the sun simply didn’t rise high enough. I returned home cold and angry. My perfect plan failed because of a lack of sunlight.
Since Thomas Edison invented the bulb, a lack of sunlight is nothing more than a temporary problem. Our houses, streets and industries are bathed in light. We can work, relax and entertain after sunset and before sunrise. All we need is electricity and some bulbs. But this amazing revolution has only been possible for about one hundred and fifty years. Before this invention the sources of light available to humankind were very poor and very expensive. So, people’s lives were governed by dawn and dusk. With this in mind, we can understand better, how important the symbol of light was for our ancestors.
Sunlight gave them a feeling of safety; it allowed them to work and hunt. Night was the domain of nameless fear, a place of demons and danger. We can understand, then, why many ancient cultures celebrated midwinter – the day of winter solstice – as the feast of the victorious sun. Christians of the first centuries were children of their own time. They were shaped by the culture of the day, as are we. In winter, just like their non-Christian neighbours they waited for the daylight to return. Everyone needed to work. But their faith gave them a much deeper understanding of the changing seasons. They no longer worshipped the sun; instead they turned to Christ, the everlasting light, dispelling the darkness of the human soul. Some monk calculated that Christ was born on the 25th of December – but the date doesn’t matter at all. Our ancestors celebrated the birth of Christ when they could. We can see a similar process in our own days: many people without Christian connections celebrate Christmas, you find this even in traditionally non-Christian countries like China or Japan. Who knows what they are celebrating; Christmas is a good opportunity to celebrate whatever.
I hope that our celebration of Christmas is a special opportunity to express our faith, that Jesus is the light, which dispels the darkness of our anxieties and fears. Things that burden our hearts, threatening us with sadness and hopelessness. Jesus was born in imperfect circumstances. He comes into our imperfect lives. St John says “to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God”. This means, that we don’t need to worry too much about our future. Because the overwhelming power of love is alive and well. He has a name. And that name is Jesus.