The piety of the season in permeated with the recognition of a world steeped in sin, fear, ignorance and death in need of salvation … another reason for the invocation of the dark skies eagerly awaiting the Dawn of Salvation.
Yet there is a beauty about this type of Advent darkness. I, for example, can’t help but think of the stunning splendor of the night sky when viewed by summer campers in the woods of northern Wisconsin. The dazzling array of stars and planets produce a genuine spirit of awe in those who take the time to stop and look upwards in utter wonderment. The vast world above and beyond us is comforting. It does not produce even a hint of terror.
Our Advent nights in December are at their longest, however, and coldest while the days have shrunken to a much smaller size. (I sometimes wonder how strange it must be to celebrate Christmas each year while living in places of the southern hemisphere like Australia or Cape Town, South Africa, where the light is longest and brightest at Christmas time! The traditional songs must simply seem very odd indeed … or perhaps they have their own favorite songs about luminous Light!)
Come Christmas Eve, we often evoke the haunting biblical refrain describing how, when “the peaceful stillness which encompassed everything, and the night in its swift course was only half spent, God’s almighty Word leapt down from the heavens” and the feeling is reassuring … nevermind that the original literal context for the quote is the command of God leaping down to earth in order to slay the first born of the Egyptians at the time of the flight of Israel from Egypt (Wis 18:14f.). The Catholic approach to the Scriptures, however, especially in our liturgy, is never held hostage to the literal sense. The poetry always seems to serve the mystery.
Perhaps the comfort of Advent darkness stems from the confident conviction that God is about to break into our night however it be experienced or defined. The Divine Rescue happens in response to our need and quite beyond our control. That convergence of human need and divine power is the key to the distinctiveness of the Advent season of darkness! God prevails in spite of all the obstacles thrown up by human stupidity and malice.
Moreover, our humble human gifts to the needy at this time of the year are the sparks of compassion and generosity which we light against the darkness as we await God’s coming in God’s time and in God’s way.
Happy Advent! Enjoy the darkness of the season.