“The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated… Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate.” (Pope Benedict XVI, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, 64)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Our Darkest Day

And he hath broken my teeth one by one, he hath fed me with ashes. And my soul is removed far off from peace, I have forgotten good things. And I said: My end and my hope is perished from the Lord. Remember my poverty, and transgression, the wormwood, and the gall. I will be mindful and remember, and my soul shall languish within me.

These things I shall think over in my heart, therefore will I hope. The mercies of the Lord that we are not consumed: because his commiserations have not failed. They are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, said my soul: therefore will I wait for him. (Lam 3:16-24)

Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia. (Charles Schultz)

This image of the Rising Dawn, Orient, Dayspring, or Sun of Justice (depending on the verse or translation), is one of the most used of the coming Christ. There seems to be something in our human programming that attracts us to this as it seems universal among various pagan religions. What images hope like the rising sun? It’s often used in analogies for certainty, as in, “As sure as the sun rises in the east…” And as this rising sun, an image of the our Lord’s Advent, Nativity, Resurrection, and Return, a hope we can believe in with certainty, comes up over the snow (the picture is the view from my doorstep), today in Vespers, we address our Savior as “Oriens”, the Rising Dawn.

I’m sure the ancient mystagogues figured this out years ago, but the dawn of this day is special, since it's our shortest day, making “Oriens” a fitting placement on the calendar.

This brings to mind an interesting documentary I saw last year, The Star of Bethlehem. It’s impressive. That’s assuming the self-produced film isn’t a hoax, and not being much of a star gazer myself I’m not in a place to pass judgment. The filmmaker and star, Frederick Larson, details his personal faith journey, his research and his amazing findings, showing what he believes is the real star. However, I was uncomfortable with part of what he stated.

According to the film, as I can recollect, he found these amazing messages in the stars around the time of Jesus’ birth that seem to correlate with the biblical account. However, Christian Tradition was ignored, and without a good reason in my opinion.

According to his figuring, the magi arrived somewhere around December 25th. I assume he’s using the Gregorian Calendar, but he didn’t specify. After showing these results, he goes on to say, “I’m not saying that Jesus was born on December 25th. I don’t think anyone believes that.” [My recollection of the quote]

Well, I hate to break it to him, but I do. His findings actually might suggest it if he would take another look at them and the biblical Nativity. I’m a year removed from watching it, so I can’t document it completely, but I don’t think he took into account two facts:

1. Zachariah was incensing the Holiest of Holies roughly six months before the annunciation. Such a ritual could only take place on one day in the year – Yom Kippur. This would have occurred between mid-September and mid-October, Gregorian (it would be interesting to see the actual dates of Yom Kippur from 2 and 3 BC). From a theological perspective, this makes perfect sense – to announce the forerunner, the one who will provide a baptism of repentance, on the Jewish Day of Atonement. This, quite conceivably, could have taken place on the Autumn Equinox. So, with some rough reckoning (Annunciation six months later, and our Lord’s Nativity nine months later) we can see, with the Bible as our guide, that Jesus must have been born sometime near December 25th.

2. Under the Julian calendar, June 24th was the Summer Solstice, and December 25th was the Winter Solstice. Of course, June 24th is the Nativity of John the Baptist, the one who said, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” And, on the old calendar, the sun in fact did decrease daily, until the darkest day of the year, December 25th. God could pick no better day than this one to bring to us the Light of the World, when the world was most in need of light.

The date of December 25th fits biblically and uses the natural rhythms of nature to tell us something theologically. Frederick Larson, for all his interesting work on the biblical star, missed that. I still highly recommend this video – it is extremely impressive despite my quibbles. But it’s too bad, because even if he doesn’t give the date of Christmas credence, his research still points to it. His findings also gives the magi longer than twelve days to arrive at Bethlehem, something they would definitely need if they in fact launched from Susa, Babylon, Nineveh, or some other place of Zoroastrian-Persian origin. An arrival on January 6th (Julian) certainly wouldn’t seem out of the question with his findings.

I guess the point is, Catholic Tradition is reliable, as sure as the sun rises in the east. In fact, more sure, because even the atheists know that the day will come when the day won’t come.

And although I will keep in line with the Church and celebrate Christmas on December 25th, it is still not lost on me that Jesus was born on the old December 25th, the Winter Solstice, which is in fact today. Happy Birthday, my Lord!

O Rising Sun, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. (Vespers Antiphon, Divine Office for Dec 21)

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