A SAD Time of Year?
Well the sun came up yesterday but what was unusual is that we actually saw it! Besides a few momentary breaks in the clouds, it’s been ten days with 0% sunshine and 21 days with only minimal amounts of it. That’s a long time to go without seeing the sun.
This absence of sunshine actually has some pretty significant effects. We all get at least part of our vitamin D from sunny days since it is produced when sunshine hits the skin of our bodies. And while the scientific results are still mixed, some studies support the reality that a lower amount of sunny days even affects our mood, with some people being diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which correlates a drop in sunny days with an increase in depressive symptoms. So for a variety of reasons–and whether or not we are conscious of it–when we can’t see and feel the sun, we miss it.
What gets less attention though, either personally or even societally, is another kind of deficit. Just as the absence of basking in the light and warmth of the sun has physical effects, a lack of the Light and Warmth of the Son also takes a great toll on us. He is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and any length of time when we are not aware of His light, there are significant effects, whether or not we’re aware of them. Just as the sun is the source of our light and warmth, the Son allows us to see clearly and find the comfort and life that come from His warmth. Without it, we become confused and disorientated, and the coldness inside only grows.
This is the reason why the early Church, looking for a time to celebrate Jesus’ Birth, chose a date just after the shortest day of the year. Right when it seems that darkness and cold only get longer and more severe (as they have been doing since June 21st if you can believe it) a slight, almost imperceptible change occurs. Just when we expect one more minute of darkness added to our cold and gloom a glimmer of light appears, and instead we see total darkness beginning to be overtaken by the light of the coming sun.
In the same way, without Christ the coldness and dark of this life only ended in the ultimate chill and gloom of death. With the coming of the Lord of Light and Life, both shine into the darkness and overtake them. First, Christ dawned His light on the world and brought the truth of His teachings, His Gospel of Good News for the whole world. He is the Good Shepherd who leads those who follow into the truth of the Father: His Father and our Father, His God and our God (John 20:17). He taught us in word that “the Father Himself loves you” (John 16:27), and then showed us in deed by offering Himself–in obedience to Our Father–to enter into death on the Cross and emerge from the Tomb, risen from the dead. Seeing us facing that same cold, dark death He invited us take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), “making a way for all flesh to the resurrection from the dead” (the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St Basil the Great). Thjs is why for us Orthodox, Christ’s Birth is just as important for our salvation as His Death and Resurrection, as we’ll hear from Bishop ANTHONY who will be speaking on this topic this coming Saturday.
So here in West Michigan as in many areas of the country, we’ve gone a long stretch without seeing the sun. If that has you down a bit, or if any of the circumstances of life, no matter how great or trivial, have done so, it’s time to look up and see that the Son has risen and we stand in the Light of a brightly shining New Day. The Feast of Christ’s Birth that we celebrate at Christmas is not just about a beautiful scene of a baby in the manger as much as it is about the dawn of the bright and warming Son rising after ages of gloom and grey. The main Orthodox hymn (called the Troparion or Apolytikion) for the Feast of Christ’s Nativity calls Him “the Dawn of Day from on high.”
Yes, life has its ups and downs and its real challenges for us to face. But since the night Christ dawned upon the world, we face all of them in the brightness and even cheer of this New Day, and with the salvation that He brings from all things dark and gloomy and cold. We sing in the Doxology at the end of Matins “In Thy light shall we see light,” meaning when we see His light we see. Conversely, if we only see the gloom and grey of a sunless day, it’s only because we’re not looking to see His Light. Yes, life can be hard but if it’s dark and gloomy it’s only because we’re not looking up and seeing that the Son is out today.
The Church gives us this Advent season precisely for this purpose: to enable us to see the brightness of His Light shining every day, and even in the darkness of night. Let’s use these days of increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving so that we see the light that has risen on this New Day, no matter what the weather is or how many days we go without seeing the sun. The Son always shines.