Light in the Darkness
Second Thursday of Advent: Saint Lucy. “The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory; your days of mourning shall be ended.” Isaiah 60
John Donne, poet and Dean of St Paul's
from 1621 until his death in 1631,
wrote this as an epitaph to a woman whom he had loved and lost.
It is entitled ‘A Nocturnall upon St. Lucie's day, being the shortest day'.
Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
…..But I am none; nor will my sun renew. Enjoy your summer all; Since she enjoys her long night's festival, Let me prepare towards her, and let me call This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this Both the year's, and the day's deep midnight is.
Saint Lucy – the winter solstice, the long darkness,
“the year’s midnight” as John Donne describes it,
a dark, stark reminder the days that are left to us get shorter.
The poem is full of an oppressive sense of darkness and dread,
as if the sun's light and warmth are so frail a commodity
that it is scarcely possible that they will not soon be entirely extinguished.
Saint Lucy's Day has been honoured especially in Northern Europe, and our own Book of Common Prayer makes mention of it in it's December Calendar.
How did St Lucy's Day come to be associated with the Winter Solstice? St. Lucy's Day, December 13, was, under the Julian Calendar, the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. When Northern European countries eventually adopted the Gregorian Calendar, the Winter Solstice moved from 13th December to 21st December. England and Scandinavia were reluctant to move to the Gregorian Calendar, as it was viewed in these Protestant countries as a "Papist" invention!
England finally moved to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. To align the calendar in use in England to that on the continent, the calendar was advanced by 11 days: Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752. The year 1752 was thus a short year (355 days), and hence why the Winter Solstice moved from 13th December to the 21st December.
Interestingly, in Scandinavian folk-lore, there was, on the night of the Winter Solstice, an occasion called Lussinatta. Lussi Night, in Sweden ( on 13th December), was the night when Lussi, a female witch, was said to ride through the air with her followers, called Lussiferda.
Between Lussi Night and Yule,
evil spirits and the spirits of the dead were believed to be present out of doors. It was believed to be particularly dangerous to be out during Lussi Night. According to tradition, children who had been naughty had to take special care, since Lussi could come down chimneys and take them away!
The tradition of Lussevaka – to stay awake through the Lussinatt to guard oneself and the household against evil, has found a modern form in throwing all-night parties until daybreak - well, it's a good excuse, isn't it?
St. Lucia Day in Sweden brings some mid-winter light to an otherwise dark time of the year. By tradition, a girl is chosen to be Lucia, who is garlanded with a special crown of Candles (see below for the significance of this), and with her attendants, boys and girls, she processes through the town or village, visiting schools, and nurseries, churches, halls, and anywhere that people gather. As the dark day settles into night, fireworks are set-off, and on this special day saffron cakes, called lussekatter (literally “Lucy's cats”) are shared.
Who was Lucy? She was a native of Syracuse in Sicily, and lived at the beginning of the fourth century, under the rule of Diocletian, an anti-Christian emperor. Lucy, during these dark days for Christianity in the Roman Empire, took food and aid to Christians hiding in the Catacombs, using a candle-lit wreath to light her way, so that her hands were free to carry as much food as possible.
Lucy was a devout Christian, who had offered her life to Christ by making a vow of chastity. Her mother unfortunately didn't agree with her choice, and against Lucy's will betrothed her to a pagan. At the same time Lucy's mother was ill, and Lucy visited the shrine of Saint Agatha to pray for her. The saint appeared to Lucy in a dream, telling her that her mother's illness would be cured through faith. Lucy was able to convince her mother to cancel the wedding and donate the dowry to the poor. Enraged, her suitor then reported her to the governor for being a Christian. The judge, knowing that she had taken a vow of celibacy, ordered her to be taken to a brothel. Lucy dug her heels in, and would not allow herself to be taken there, so she was set on fire, but she remained untouched by the flames.
Because her name means Light, and her feast-day falls in December, she became associated with the one true Light who was coming to enlighten the nations, the Light that would overcome the darkness.
God our Redeemer,
who gave light to the world
that was in darkness by the healing power of the Saviour's cross:
shed that light on us, we pray,
that with your martyr Lucy
we may, by the purity of our lives,
reflect the light of Christ and,
by the merits of his passion,
come to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.
Make me a still place of light
A still place of love of You
Your light radiating
Your love reverberating
Your touch and healing
Far flung and near
To the myriads caught
In darkness, in sickness
In lostness, in fear
Make a heart-centre here
Light of the World.
It is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4. 6-13
1. What darkness do we experience / are we experiencing in our lives, and in the lives of others? Pray that the Light of Christ will enter into that darkness, and overwhelm it with God's love and God's goodness.
2. Of what dark situation are you aware in our world? Focus the Light of Christ like a spotlight on that darkness, and overwhelm the situation with your prayers and with God's love.