Winter Solstice: Already and Not Yet

A lectionary reflection for the 21st day of December, in the 4th week of Advent

The first reading for today is from the Song of Songs (Sg 2:8-14). It contains a passage that must have been set to music that I know, because I can almost sing it to some phantom melody…

For lo, the winter is past,
The rains are over and done.
The flowers appear on the earth,
The time of singing has come.

Why do we hear this today? The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year; it’s the midpoint of winter, not the end of it. “Solstice” means “standing sun”: if you’ve been tracking the location of the sun in the sky at the same time every day, you’ve seen it move in one direction every day; but today is the midpoint, today it stands still, tomorrow it starts to move back, in the other direction, and the days will start to get longer.

The winter isn’t past. What’s going on?

There’s a churchy phrase we toss around sometimes: “already and not yet”. It expresses the tension, or the mystery, of how the Reign of God is already here… and not yet here. It was inaugurated when Christ died and was raised… and is not yet fulfilled until he comes again in glory, to judge the living and the dead.

On the winter solstice, the end of winter has been accomplished. We are no longer heading into winter; we’re on our way to spring. Winter is already over… and not yet over.

It’s like that third candle on the Advent wreath. On Gaudete Sunday we rejoice, because we are closer to the fulfillment of Advent by the feast of Christmas than we are to the beginning of Advent. In a way, we live all our lives in “pink candle time”, in the “already but not yet”.

On this winter solstice, on this Tuesday of the fourth week of the second Advent of the pandemic, may you rest in the sure knowledge that the winter is past, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come… already, surely, irreversibly, although not yet.

O Radiant Dawn,

splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice:

come and shine on those who dwell in darkness

and in the shadow of death.

Come and save us!

O Antiphon for December 21

A grateful tip of the hat to PrayAsYouGo. whose reflection for the day prompted this post. Their daily reflections are beautifully structured, short but deep.

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