Copyrighted photo by Matt Molloy, 500 px; FAIR USE claimed by MeridaGOround

This Saturday is winter solstice. ¬†Our star,¬†Sol, The Sun,¬†will appear ever-so-subtly to begin its annual northerly march, delivering longer days and more light and warmth to our hemisphere, and to our lives. The ancient Mayans were astute observers of this phenomenon, ably predicting the event with amazing mathematical accuracy, long before the invention of the telescope brought the heavens visually closer for Europeans to argue that Earth¬†was not the center of the universe. ¬†(“The church” fought this science, spilling blood in its futile resistance to truth ‚Äď but that’s another story.) ¬†

Let’s think about light as metaphor, setting aside superstitions about a flat Earth at the center of a dying fallen world, and welcome the returning light of learning which ever increases our understanding of our place in creation, if we would grow wiser. ¬†Reading between the lines of scripture can be instructive in this exercise, for¬†the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (see v.6). ¬†A flexible approach to reading tends to enlighten. ¬†(In a hurricane the rigid pine tree snaps, while the graceful palm bends and survives and grows more fruitful.) ¬†Yes, rigid literalism is a major problem in discerning truth.

Yesterday I was looking at various translators’ renderings of a popular ¬†Christmas verse: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel¬†(Isa 7:14). ¬†Some scholars and Bible students have long favored literalism, insisting that Mary, mother of Jesus of Nazareth, was a virgin¬†‚ÄĒ but this word can simply mean a young woman. ¬†This rendering can generate more heat than light! ¬†One scholar, an expert on ancient Bible languages, also a brilliant storyteller, has written a very credible novel titled Rabbi Jesus, arguing that Jesus was viewed in his hometown as born out of wedlock ‚ÄĒ which I’ve commented on, here.

Such a story might offend many believers, just as evidence that Earth¬†was not central outraged many churchmen in Galileo’s day. ¬†Rather than personally taking a position on something as unprovable as a young girl’s virginity 2000 years ago, I found myself looking for the blessing in this more flexible prophesy. ¬†IF,¬†as Professor Chilton argues, Jesus was born out of wedlock, how might that impact us? ¬†Doesn’t that make him more human? ¬†Could this be “a sign” that God cares deeply about all children? ¬†

The rendering which really grabbed my attention on this is from the Good News translation, which differs significantly from the New International Version (you can compare by using the pull-down menu: GNT, or NIV) by pointing out that the Lord’s sign would arrive through a young woman who was already pregnant. ¬†And, hey, although she didn’t name her child Jesus, but Immanuel (which means God with us) ‚ÄĒ her kid came to deliver a peace regarding God’s presence which Jesus clearly demonstrated later in life. ¬†He told us we are children of light. We can enter into that peace today. ¬†“The government is upon his shoulders”‚ÄĒ¬†a verse sung so powerfully in Handel’s¬†Messiah: Unto us a child is born.¬†¬†(skip ad to listen) ¬†¬†

Blessings to all readers.

Post Script : ¬†¬†Nowhere in the gospels is the date of Jesus‚Äôs birth specified. The first time it‚Äôs pinned down to 25 December, or at least to the ‚ÄúEighth day before the Kalends of January‚ÄĚ is the year AD354, in the Roman calendar of Philocalus. The date seems to have been chosen to replace the prior festival, decreed by Aurelian, of the unconquered sun ‚Äď Sol Invictus. ¬∂ ¬†As a midwinter festival of the sun, the date makes celestial sense. It falls just after the solstice, when the days are perceptibly lengthening. ¬†source.


Winter solstice afternoon at Mayapan, Yucatan

Winter solstice afternoon at Mayapan, Yucatan

Winter solstice. ¬†The shortest day of the year is over. ¬†We made the brief trip from Merida to the ruins at Mayapan, with friends Pat and Carlos, to pay our respects to the cosmic clock which the ancient Maya spent so much time studying and honoring thru architecture. The ancients carefully planned and built pyramids to serve as giant sundials which would instruct future generations of the cycle of seasons. On the shortest and longest days of each year, the Kulkukan pyramid at Mayapan, 28 kilometers south of Merida, puts on a solar display (December ~21 ¬†& ¬†June ~21) which required major calculating, engineering, and sweat. (It’s not an easy matter to relocate a huge stone structure one degree this way, or that way, so it’s best to be exact from the start.)¬†

Subtly, over a three day period, K’iin, Sol, Sun,¬†casts a shadow along a corner of the pyramid, onto the staircase, which looks to one’s imagination like a serpent very slowly slithering down the great stonework stairs. This pyramid is smaller than the one at Chichen Itza. That one alternately does it’s shadowy slither at the equinoxes twice yearly (March ~21 ¬†& ¬†September ~21). The serpent-shadow effect at both is visible a day or so on either side of the precisely demarcated solar event.

Shadowy serpent descends the staircase to announce seasonal change

Shadowy serpent slithers down the staircase to announce seasonal change. (Astro observatory in background.)

For those with good balance and stamina, the pyramid is still climbable ‚Äď but very steep. Coming down can be more terrifying than going up. Don’t loose your head by trying something beyond your ability safely to complete.

King of the castle surveys the kingdom

King-of-the-castle surveys the kingdom

A bas relief carving displayed on the backside of the mound. "You'd lose your head if it weren't attached!"

A bas relief carving displayed under thatch, on the backside of the mound. “You’d lose your head if it weren’t attached!”

Speaking of heady events of light and shadow, when Moses met God at the¬†burning bush,¬†he asked God his name. The reply is variously translated as¬†I am who I am; ¬†or ¬†I will be who I will be ‚Ästperhaps implying ¬†don’t be impertinent by asking such a question ‚Äď ¬†but pay attention, and discover who you are. ¬†In other words, grasp¬†your assignment.

And, of course, Jesus said of himself¬†I am the light of the world (v.12).¬†But he also said¬†you are the light of the world (v.14).¬†So this doesn’t sound like an exclusive club of one member only. Einstein was fixated with understanding the nature of light, and changed the world thru his quest, bringing us into the modern electronic era. If I were to invest more thought and energy into my understanding of who I am, maybe it would change my world, my experience, and my way of seeing you. Perhaps some of the cycles of life would begin to come into focus and reveal their meaning to each of us. ¬†

It’s doubtful that Jesus was born on December 25, in a stable. The date had long been associated with a pagan holiday celebrating the return of the light. And the word stable is a mistranslation of a Greek word which means guest room¬†in a home. But let’s not quibble over mere words when we can enjoy the light.

A 15th century nativity scene by Paolo Schiavo.   Merry Christmas to all; and to all, good light.