by Lynne Baab
It was a very dark December morning in Linköping, Sweden. My kids’ preschool had invited all the parents to come to breakfast to celebrate Santa Lucia Day, and the breakfast was very early because some of the parents needed to go to work. I was not a morning person, and I felt groggy when we walked into the preschool and took our places at a festive table with candles, red decorations and bowls of porridge. After breakfast, we watched a pageant unfold, with children singing and a girl with electric candles on her head.
My kids are now in their thirties, so this memory comes from many years ago, during the year my husband did research in Sweden. In my blurry memory, the dark outside the big windows contrasts with the bright tables. I was very aware of both the dark morning and the light inside.
Here’s a description of Santa Lucia Day (or Saint Lucy Day) from a Christmas website:
St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means “light” so this is a very appropriate name.
December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old Julian Calendar, and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day.
St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are used!
The themes of light and dark are very real to me at Christmas because I now live in New Zealand, in the Southern Hemisphere. At Christmas, the days here in Dunedin are light until ten p.m. Lighting candles to welcome the Christ Child is irrelevant, because the candles’ light is invisible in the light of the sun.
When we moved to New Zealand nine years ago, I found Christmas totally disorienting: all the light, warmth, picnics, summer fruit and fresh vegetables. Now I see the light in the sky as a sign of God’s light, made real to us in Jesus, just as powerful an image as candles shining in the darkness.
Every day we choose whether we will live in light and let God’s light shine in us and through us. Every day we can bring our darkness to God for cleansing and renewal, and we can choose God’s light once more.
God’s business is light. I love the picture of Santa Lucia wearing candles on her head, so she could bring food to prisoners in the catacombs. I grieve the darkness they were imprisoned in, and the darkness of the society that imprisoned them.
This week on the Godspace blog we’re focusing on entering our city with Jesus. Today I invite you to thank God for the people and congregations you know who are bringing God’s light into your city. Maybe they don’t wear candles on their heads, but the picture of Santa Lucia works well as a metaphor for God’s light encountering the darkness of poverty, addiction, joblessness and other sad things.
Today I’m thanking God for a city council woman in my Dunedin church and a city council man in my Seattle church. Both of them try to bring God’s light into city government. I pray for both of them, for wisdom, patience, perseverance and love. Today I’m also thanking God for a ministry my Dunedin congregation supports in a low-income neighborhood and for a weekly dinner for low-income and homeless people my Seattle congregation puts on. I’m praying for the people involved in those ministries. May they all have an awareness of God’s light as their hands engage in work that fights the darkness.
This post is part of the 2016 Advent series.