This Advent, we’re excited to share excerpts from the new book The Light of the World: Daily Meditations for Advent and Christmas, by Phyllis Zagano. We’ll start this week with the introduction.
Each year on June 24, around the time of the summer solstice, the church celebrates the feast of John the Baptist. Just a few days earlier, the longest day of the year marks the earth’s midpoint between darkness and light. From John’s feast onward, days become shorter and daylight decreases. The world slowly moves to a deeper quiet, toward a winter slumber.
John knew he must decrease so that Christ may increase. He gives us good advice. So too must we accept our need for deeper quiet, for silence, and for a lessening as we await in hope the coming of Christ.
At the beginning of Advent, as we prepare for the coming weeks of deeper darkness, we see the earth slow its rhythm. Skies cloud and darken. The winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year will soon arrive.
Although we know more darkness is coming, we know as well nature promises more light, at least in a few weeks’ time. The light must decease before it again increases in the regular rhythm of the skies and earth. So too with us. As we look toward more light, and as we prepare for the coming of Christ, we can think of how we might decrease so that the light of Christ may increase both in our lives and in the world.
I think we all know how hard it is to “decrease.” Not long ago, Pope Francis chided us all for wanting to achieve some special recognition, some accounting of our worth, by counting how many internet friends or contacts or hits we have. The false sense of security we gain by these electronic means of validation blocks true light—about ourselves and our relationships. How is it we prefer a screen to people? How is it we think sheer numbers can count our worth?
The Advent project, like any other project of the heart, will advance along the lines we set. If we use electronics to reach out to others, fine. If we use them to hide, and/or to move us along in some fantasy world, we are damaging our very selves and seriously endangering our abilities to see the Christ—in the world, in others, and, most importantly, in ourselves.
New media do not present the only darkness. We know too well the ancient list: anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, and sloth. Each of these—called the seven deadly sins or the cardinal sins—is title heading for the smaller, simpler sins of everyday life. No thinking person can be completely and routinely enmeshed in any one of these. No loving person will live without checking against their tendencies daily.
Great literature presents the ways these seven affect the human project. When Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales—tales told by a variety of pilgrims on a pilgrimage to Thomas à Becket’s shrine at Canterbury Cathedral—he included only one good clergyman, the parson. In his tale, the parson lays out the points of reference for the soul returning to a life of grace. He says, to the other pilgrims and implicitly to us, that they and we all need penitence, that they and we, each and all, need contrition of the heart, confession of the mouth, and satisfaction for our faults. Such would be the order, and such would be the requirements for every life. Chaucer has use for only one member of the clergy—the parson. He has good advice.
Will Chaucer’s advice, conveyed through The Parson’s Tale, take root in our hearts this Advent? We can drive ourselves blindly in one direction or another, perhaps in the dim light of evening or in the increasing dark of night. The more we ignore the small tic within that points to the distant relative of one or another of the major faults we know about, the more we will move into a darkness, into a realm of self-involvement and deceit.
Then Advent comes along and calls us to remember that because the dark exists, so also we can know the light, and perhaps even know it more brightly when it comes.
These Advent reflections reflect our natural longing for the light. Like John, we can will ourselves to become quieter, slower even, pointing to the Christ who is to come. Like the pilgrims with the parson, we can look within for ways to make our own hearts and minds more transparent, more open, more accepting of the light.
Journey through Advent with internationally acclaimed author Phyllis Zagano as she explores the rich themes of this holy season. As explored by Zagano, Advent is a time of darkness and light, increase and decrease. The Light of the World gently unfolds the rhythms of these sacred weeks, inviting readers into a deep and prayerful journey to Christmas.