Friday, December 13, 2013
If you're reading this, I guess the Mayans were wrong.
Or the people who were worried that the Mayan calendar's final day on Dec. 21 had some global catastrophic meaning were wrong.
Either way, the Ancient Association of Anxious Apocalypse Anticipators has to find another date to worry about.
But since winter officially arrived at 6:12 a.m. Friday, the earliest time since 1896, the Mayan message missed the mark.
The world was not terminated with extreme prejudice (this time, at least) and Christmas will come right on schedule, just as it has before and will again. Until, that is, the One who's really in charge decides it's time to wrap things up for good, and we don't get to pick that date.
Friday was also one of my favorite days of the year, because, as noted above, it was the winter solstice.
This solstice marks the point in the Earth's orbit when the planet's axial tilt starts to incline the northern hemisphere back toward Sol, as the sun appears to us to stop its descent and then begins to climb in the sky. (In Latin, "solstice" means "The sun stands still.")
We who live above the equator start to get a second or two more sunlight each day. After a few weeks, the seconds become minutes and the minutes become hours, with daylight and darkness equaling out at the vernal equinox in March.
Then daylight pulls ahead until the summer solstice in June, when darkness starts its half-year reign.
The weather doesn't respond to the increasing sunlight for some months -- in these latitudes, average extremes of heat and cold follow the solstices by about a month, with the coldest temperatures coming in late January and early February, while the warmest ones show up in late July and early August.
But there will be a smidgen more light today than yesterday, and another smidgen more the day after that, and the day after that, for six more months. That's worth lifting a wassail bowl to, for certain.
Continuing the theme of returning light, let's get back to Christmas, in the context of a couple of things I read recently.
The first is a book by a Jesuit priest, Robert J. Spitzer, who in "New Proofs for the Existence of God" delves into both philosophy and science for his text.
While the philosophy is fascinating, it's also too detailed to go into in this space. But with regard to the science, Spitzer takes two facts -- the creation of the Universe at a single point in time (the primal "Singularity" or, more popularly, "The Big Bang"), and the fact that the entire Universe is precisely structured in every physical constant science has discovered to support life as we know it (the so-called "anthropic principle") -- and he finds in them truths that scientists can describe but not explain.
One such truth is that the writer of Genesis somehow knew 6,000 years ago that the Universe began in a burst of radiation, including the visible wavelengths -- so that "Let there be light!" is a precise description of that event.
And science has shown the Universe is "open," not "closed" -- it will continue to expand, and no Big Crunch (or new Big Bang) is possible.
Spitzer's second point involves the unproven theory that there are an infinite number of universes (so that this one's hospitality to life can be explained away as inevitable in a "multiverse"). That defies Occam's Razor, the "law of parsimony" that says the simplest explanation is almost always correct.
If you have to postulate countless other universes to explain this one (even though the odds against it being the way it is are literally astronomical), your theory is hopelessly complex.
Fortunately, we have a better answer about why things are the way they are. Especially in the context of recent horrors, let's harken to a 2005 Christmas sermon by the respected Anglican cleric, N.T. Wright.
It's important to know, he said, that "Christmas is not about the living God coming to tell us everything's all right. John's gospel isn't about Jesus speaking the truth and everyone saying, 'Of course! Why didn't we realize it before?' It is about God shining his clear, bright torch into the darkness of our world, our lives, our hearts, our imaginations, and the darkness not comprehending it."
As he says, "Jesus is born into a world where everyone is deaf and blind to him and what he's saying; but some, in fear and trembling, allow his words to challenge, rescue, heal and transform them."
So, despite all the cruelty, horror, oppression, rage and evil the world holds, these words can be still be said to rebuke it:
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmon firstname.lastname@example.org