Margate Beach on a Grey Day
Here, well up there in the Northern Hemisphere, the approach of the Church’s great winter feasts is met by ever shortening days, grayish sunsets subtly shaded with pastel colour, and the gathering shadows of storm-rattled darkness. Even now, as I look out from the giant bay window in my flat toward a slate gray sea, it feels like a slow motion dawn rather than what the clock prosaically states is high noon. And the Church, in her time-tested wisdom, has properly situated the purple cloaked season of waiting and hoping within a test mirrored by nature herself- will the Son of Man ever return; will I ever witness the eastern blaze of a 5:00 AM springtime dawn seen through the very same bay window now shrouded in a feeble mist? One can hope, but for now all I can do is walk my two bemused dogs in the bookended darkness of a seven o’clock dawn and four thirty afternoon sunset.
I have had critics of the Church, harboring grave suspicions of pagan flashbacks, point out the total lack of biblical witness for the date of Christ’s birth, the unlikely probability of shepherds out in the fields in the dead of winter and, far worse, the close congruence of the decadent Roman Saturnalia with the newly minted Feast of the Nativity. Shopping frenzy beginning at mid-November and a near-universal expansion of waistlines don’t help- as a kindly Jehovah’s Witness picture framer said once, utterly confident that I would agree. It seems, though, as if the whole point has been missed. It is the ritual celebration of Christ’s birth and the expectation of God’s promise fulfilled – born of an indestructible hope- that are being celebrated and the vast stage of nature herself hosts the drama. Yes, the shortening days followed by the magic threshold of the Solstice, when that longed for flicker of light begins to wax stronger, formed the reason for the Saturnalia but this has been embodied by the small child laid in a manger; the hope for Emmanuel realized at last.