“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” [John 12:46]
I am told by friends in the field of psychology that winter depression is something of a mystery to those who study it. Many things seem to be involved, but researchers agree that people who suffer from winter depression — also known as seasonal affective disorder — have one thing in common, and that is they are particularly sensitive to light, or rather, the lack of it. As the days darken and nights lengthen, energy seems to fade, and depression begins to beset many. Not to oversimplify, but we seem to fit the landscape around us.
I have felt for years this is one reason that Christmas can be so difficult for many, especially as it becomes more secularized and commercial. Our culture has defined the Season of Christmas as a “feel good” time, and yet has substituted short-lived compulsive behavior as its sustaining drive, rather than the true meaning and purpose of Christmas, which is the joy of celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The world around us says it’s Christmas — eat more, buy more, take in sugar to gain that “high” or drink to excess to “celebrate,” sing about emotions we don’t have but are told we should — all which have the down side of creating even worse depression. Add to the mix that we are told Christmas is for children, families, lovers, those who can afford it — what does that say to the older, poorer, lonely, hungry and depressed amongst us?
The Church in Her wisdom teaches differently. She offers a season of Advent leading into Christmas, a time that acknowledges the sense of growing darkness in the world around us, yet reminds us that the darkness is transitory and that the Light that enlightens all people has come into the world. Our darkness has been conquered through the power of God’s love reconciling us to Himself, as He became one of us, embracing all He created. We are not alone. All humankind is invited to the knowledge that we are One in Him who loves us and sustains us. This light of hope in the midst of the darkness around us. The knowledge of our salvation from darkness grows ever stronger into a certain faith — a true joy, not a passing feeling of happiness sustained for a time by earthly substances, but something eternal. The light of Advent points to the signal event celebrated by the Season of Christmas, The Incarnation, The Birth of Jesus, God amongst us.
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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