Monday, December 13th
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
~ James 1:17 (NRSV)
Before the reforms of the Western calendar, December 13 was effectively the winter solstice date, the shortest day and longest night of the year.
It was also the feast of Sancta Lucia, St. Lucy’s Day, and the connections of “lux” or light with Lucia meant that from Sicily to Sweden, in early Europe the celebration of this date meant folk traditions to ask for vision, light, and the rebirth of the daytime hours which would become visibly longer about December 25th, at Christmas.
We have other ways to mark the month and the days, and light switches to banish the gloom of evening coming shortly after lunchtime, but for all our modern innovations, we still seek vision. To see, and see clearly.
James speaks in his letter about light from above; Alexander Campbell cited this verse to explain his windowless study with a six-sided cupola allowing only “light from above.” The message of James is that every self-giving act, every perfect gift, brings us something of God, of the divine intention, into our everyday life.
St. Lucy in her martyr’s tale from the third century tells us about a young woman who chooses to see God’s love as the most important love in her life; there are many myths about her, all of them eloquent (and some creepy), but I most like the stories that talk about how she could not be moved, even by a team of oxen. She was barely more than a little girl in the midst of the Roman Empire at its height, but they could not move her. God and the love of charity and chastity and compassion came first, and not wild horses or well trained draft animals could move her. She could not be moved.
In Advent, we look for the light of God to grow on us and around us, and we pray that when God’s anointed comes to lead us, that we will follow, that we will not be moved from that faithfulness. Advent is about the promise God has given, again and again, to offer guidance when we need it, to lead us for a season, to transform us for eternity. Lucy heard and saw and believed that promise, which gave her enough light to follow step by step. On St. Lucy’s Day, we can remember that witness, her martyrdom, as a light for us which “comes from above.”
As saint’s tales do, from St. Nicholas to Sancta Lucia, her image and story becomes in the north of Europe a procession of young women walking slowly, deliberately, with a crowning wreath studded with lit candles, avatars of a coming dawn made real on the “longest night” as Dec. 13 once was in Sweden. Those illuminated acolytes cast flickering shadows on the snow, a tribute to a young woman who likely never saw snow in her life.
The Christian journey, the story within the story of Advent, is one where we find ourselves made one family, siblings of the Christ, children of the Most High, alongside of Sicilian princesses and Scandinavian children. We are ancient modern people, brought together from the east to the west, the arctic to the antarctic, from Romans to Americans, empires lost and rising and falling again, but all made one in a redeemed and resurrected hope.
May we all find light from above that illumines our inmost thoughts, our late night reflections, well before the reassurance of the dawn a light that comes from above but shines out within. Sancta Lucia, shine your light upon us!
And may we remember that all light comes from above, from God.
Prayer: Illumine Thou our hearts, O God, and shine not only on us, but through us, that we might show a light which helps others find a path that leads towards your love. Amen!
[Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher living in Granville, Ohio; his email is email@example.com but he’s fairly slow about replying, so please be patient.]