It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.[1]
With each passing day, the light continues to fade.
The days grow shorter. The rains continue to fall.
Shadows envelop the landscape as the world turns in on itself.
The sunlight fades. Some days it’s impossible to tell if the sun will shine again.

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

Advent is coming. In the Celtic calendar, the Calendar of St. Columba, St. Patrick, and St. Brigid, it has already come. And truth be told, I’ve started to enter those advent preparations, shuffling playlists to the songs of longing and hope, songs keening for the dawn that we hope for, pray for, long for, even as optimism fades to doubt, and we are unsure if hope will be reborn this year as the earth cries out in agony, people the world over being killed, lovers of money seeking to destroy as the war machine marches on ready to consume everything in its path.

In this darkening world, it can be impossible to believe that the light will shine again, that the earth will be made warm again, that the flowers will bloom again that the salmon will teem again, that the air will be clean again, that in this darkening world cloaked in despair, shrouded in pain, something new is to be born.

This time of year we are reminded, and on our better days we believe in the hope that is to be revealed, the hope that is to be proclaimed, the hope that life, that love, that God will find a way, and that in the midst of whatever trials we face, we will be embraced in the centre of God’s own heart.

When, in the fifth century, the Christians travelled from their homes in the Mediterranean and the Near East to the shores of the Celts—those lands from Turkey all the way to Ireland and the British Isles—they discovered a new story, written and revealed in the life of the earth, its people and their responsiveness to the sun.

Those early Christians, travelling to the lands beyond the mountains, lands whose rhythms are governed by the waxing and waning of the sun, discovered in those places, and amongst those people, a wisdom as old as the earth, as profound and disruptive as the God who entered time and who took on flesh and bone, to experience it all: taste and touch and sight and smell and sound.

Travelling to the land of the Celts, the lands beyond the mountains, they discovered people whose celebrations of the solstices (those times when the sun was at the height of its strength, those times when the light was at its most vulnerable) revealed a truth in the earth’s embodied wisdom, mirrored in the people’s spiritual practices.

The Christians, new to that time and place said Yes. That’s it. We know that story too, though we hadn’t understood it until now.

It’s a story that is born amongst us, that’s experienced in the intimacy and mess of God’s incarnation, in the birth of a child who has come to us in our time of great need, in a time when all seems to be coming to a close, when the world seems to be at its most dire.

Into the darkest night, in the shadow of the empires and powers of death, God, somehow God, came to be amongst us where God has always been, from the dawning of the ages, from before the beginning of time, from before the first notes were sung into the abyss, melody of a perfect love that would drive out fear reverberating with Creation’s resounding song.

The early Christians, for the first five centuries of their identity as a people had held to the sacred stories of the resurrection, the primeval story of a faith born out of deep darkness, out of the impossibility of life after life, life after retirement, life after death.

The early Christians, emerging as they had from the Jewish world, its roots and stories, had shared these tales, paired as they were to the stories of Passover, the Exodus, an escape from slavery.

The early Christians, emerging as they had from that world, celebrated a festival of deliverance that paralleled the deliverance stories around them. They celebrated, lived, embodied these stories of liberation in the way they embraced the orphans and the widows, those cast to the side, those seen as non-essential, those condemned as less-than-human, as less than who they said they were, less than who Creator had made them to be.

And yet when they crossed the mountains, taking with them as they did the great stories of deliverance and liberation, of freedom for the captives, of recovery of sight for the blind, they met a culture and a world unfamiliar with the stories of the places from which those Christians and their liberating stories had come.

The stories we tell; the stories that tell us who we are, these stories are so deeply rooted in the stories of the land. The land, like our ancestors, guard and tell our stories. Like Jacob who placed the rocks at Beth-El, or the rocks who Jesus claimed would cry out should the people remain silent.

Our stories, repeated over and over, week after week, year after year, generation after generation, remind us of our ancestors who received the gifts of the land, were displaced from the land, and who, truth be told, displaced others from their lands.[2]

And so those early Jesus followers listened.

They who were compelled by Jesus to travel to the ends of the earth journeyed far only to find Christ’s presence was already there.

They listened. They listened to the stories that emerged from the lands, the stories that had birthed these people.

They listened, attention rapt, to the stories of the fading light and spreading darkness. They saw and experienced the spiritual practice of a people committed to praying that the light might not die forever—practices of heart and mind and soul and strength that sustained them in the waning light.

It would have been so easy, these travelers discovered, to turn inward, to give in. It would have been so easy as the days diminished, to diminish with them. And yet, as they looked around, they found a people who—rather than turning in, turned outward, turned with-ward, turned toward one another in the practice of presence, the practice of generosity, of care, and of grace.

And in so doing, they discovered their own story again. These early Christians experienced the story marked on the land and found that they too had such a story, a story that had not—truth be told—been celebrated in the way that we moderns have come to know it.

It is because of the Celts, those who saw the world in deep and different ways, that Christians came to mark Advent- the time that is upon us- by observing the fading of the light as a vital and integral feast, where before they had centered only the fast of Lent, the Three Days, and Easter.

And that’s when they developed the practice of telling the story of the one who was born into darkness, a dark and violent time, when their ancestors were not sure how it would all turn out, when their ancestors were not sure if they would live to see another year, when their ancestors feared that Creator’s light had been extinguished at last.

In those last days, there had been a drought, an eternal present in which Creator’s word had not come to the people, and they were despairing and alone.

And it was into that darkness that God sent a child who would be the light of all people, who would add to and deepen the stories of the lands in which it was told, and turn the people’s hearts toward one another.

In later days, the people would remember an even older prophecy from a prophet of old, when, in a time of oppression, dispossession, and exile, the word of God broke through the darkness to say “Behold I am making all things new.”

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

It’s not dark yet, but lest you think we ought to give in to despair, we need to remember that this darkness drawing all around is the darkness not of the tomb, but of the womb. It is the darkness in which God is waiting to be born within us, amongst us, for the light and life of the world.

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

And in these latter days, we are being called to pay attention in the waning light for signs of hope, for signs of grace, for signs in the earth, and for signs in people coming together who will embody the impossible dream Isaiah spoke to a people in exile:

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth

No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit

Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox

No longer shall destruction come to anyone.

And so I wonder, in the dark of this night, as the advent of the Christ draws near: What songs do you hear? What visions do you have? What images of hope in the midst of all that is?

[1] With thanks to Bob Dylan, “Not Dark Yet.” on Time Out of Mind (Columbia, 1997).

[2] Adapted from the Salal + Cedar Eucharistic Prayer (