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Hallo again to all, on Advent IV, at the solstice, the turn of the year.

The long summer days that mark Advent will end soon; the sun will turn the corner and summer's light will begin its annual journey into the dark, to winter and to Pentecost. We remember the poem by Gary Payton written after his first Advent night in Africa: 'No bundled coats, no burning fire. This night I wait with the tree frogs.'

Light, love, and life

Hallo again to all, on Advent IV, at the solstice, the turn of the year.

We've made it once again, friends: as of 0704 GMT the sun turns the corner and the dark will, microsecond by microsecond, begin to give way to the light. Our winter darkness, the northern-hemisphere accompaniment to the solemnity of Advent, draws to an end at the time of the Christmas feast.

On Advent IV, the celebration of Christmas itself is soon, and a midsummer Christmastide includes Carols by Candlelight in every town of any size, but the candles aren't needed until the late evening midsummer sunset.

Pine trees are not native here, nor is holly, but you can make a midsummer wreath from ivy or ferns, and go for a swim on Christmas morning while a dinner of barramundi, steak, spuds, pavlova, and beer is cooking on the barbecue. One family we know has a traditional Christmas dinner of oysters, prawns, crayfish, and some wine from the Barossa Valley. In New Zealand the Christmas tree is the Pohutokawa, but since it's an endangered species, it is admired in place rather than chopped and dragged home.

The dark cold days of Pentecost are a distant memory, the joy of God's earth is everywhere around us, from fresh vegetables and flowers to the sounds not of sleigh bells, but of children splashing in the backyard pool. Sometimes a midsummer thunderstorm can interrupt an outdoor Christmas dinner. We sing the carols that our ancestors brought with them from other countries, hardly noticing the irony of singing about the bleak midwinter while dressed for the beach. It is so much easier to see the shining light of Christ on earth while celebrating Christmas in the warm sun.

We make merry at Christmastide partly, tradition tells us, because Christians co-opted the revelry of Saturnalia, turning pagan wantonness to Christmas wassail. But for us in the northern hemisphere, the candles, the feasts, and the glow of firelight seem essential to ward off the dark and crucial to the keeping of Christmas.

We've woven the darkness of the northern year into the traditions of Christmas, as we must: it's our real-time weather. We delight in the holly and the evergreens, for the world is mostly bare. We romanticise snow, for there is often much of it and we've got to do something with it. 'In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan' we sing during Christmastide. It's almost as if cold must accompany the manger or there would be no Christmas.

The joy of the earth-astounding surprise gift of God —  the squealing infant bearing the salvation of the world — brightens our dark world when we northerners need it most. At the hardest, bleakest, coldest time of year, in the thin night air, the song of the angels resounds more clearly than at any other time. That Gloria in Excelsis wakes us from our long winter's sleep. It shakes us with its absurd message of uncontrollable love. And it reminds us that it's when life seems the darkest, that the light will dazzle us out of our gloom.

On Christmas day, 'He who joined earth and heaven into one' will bring together our fragile Christian world, if only for a short time. What binds us will indeed seem far more than that which separates and divides us.

We wish a Happy Christmas to all our friends round the world: love, light, grace, and peace to each of you as you celebrate the nativity of our Saviour. Rejoice!

See you next week.

Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 21 December 2003

A thin blue line
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