East Midlands Forest Church have graciously allowed me to share these reflections from a Winter Solstice Ceremony they ran some years ago. I am choosing to publish it now in June, as while they are now approaching midsummer in the UK, we are approach midwinter here in Australia so it’s now that it’s more seasonally appropriate for us.
The Solstice is upon us. The sun has ventured down to the lowest point in the sky, bringing with it the shortest day and the longest of nights. It doesn’t get any darker than this. Since the Autumn Equinox back in September when we experienced the vitality and fruitfulness of nature’s finest mast year, the balance of power has been in the grip of the darkness. We have all experienced the chill of the drawing in of the nights and the gloom of the grey and misty morn.The rhythms of the natural world around us have ebbed, its energy returning to roots and trunks, or towards hibernation for those animals whose bodies observe this pattern of behaviour. Yet other life continues, the evergreen hope of the holly, ivy, pine, fir, cypress, cedar and yew; the sound of geese and other birds who migrate here in search of shelter and food from their harsh homelands. Life goes on, but at a slower pace than before.In all traditions, it is seen as a time of celebration, and rightly so, for on the Winter Solstice, the light will once more return, bringing along with it the warmth necessary to revive that which is dormant.In the story of certain traditions it is the time where the Winter Queen reigns, where the fight in the wyld wood between the giants of leaves, the Holly and Oak Kings comes to a head, and the dark Holly King surrenders his crown to the lighter Oak King, to rule once more from now until the Summer Solstice. We are reminded that in the darkness, light has always been present, fighting valiantly, so that even the smallest light can never be fully smothered by darkness, and we know the promised cycle of the seasons will continue as long as the earth endures. Hope remains in that promise, no matter how barren the landscape, the land will be reborn every spring. Some even tell the story of Yule and the birth of the Sun God at this time.In the Christ Tradition, it is a time for celebrating the incarnation of the Sun of Righteousness, the one of whom the ancient prophets spoke; the Divine Child of Promise, a child who brought hope, light and justice in a world of turmoil and darkness. His birth was announced in the skies in two ways. Firstly, a heavenly host of angelic beings to the lowest of the low, the shepherds in their fields at night, showing that the Divine is interested in those generally cast out by society. It was also announced by three triple conjunctions of the planets Venus, the mother, and Jupiter, the father, and the King Star, Regulus in the constellation of Leo, the Lion of Judah. It was an immutable sign, one which the ancient world marvelled at. Those in high places, who listened to the voices of the ancient prophets and opened their hearts to leading of the Eternal Spirit were moved to trek hundreds of miles in order to worship the Christ Child.Like the sun moving down from its high point at the Summer Solstice, to its lowest at the Winter Solstice, the Sun of Righteousness moved from the highest heavens to this earthly plane at his incarnation. And from the highest ranks of the Magi, to the lowest outcasts in the shepherds, the Divine calls all humanity into deep relationship, regardless of our background or past experiences.At this time where our very life breath becomes visible to us in the cold, may we give thanks for that breath each day, and may we seek the Light Eternal to illuminate our hearts, minds and spirits, that we too may walk in the light. May we remember that spell of the White Queen, that seeks to keep us ever in Winter, but never Christmas, has been broken so we can live in the hope of Immanuel, God with us.