I’ve come to believe that there are no coincidences in the liturgical calendar.
I awoke early on 22 December, just as light was beginning to streak the sky, having completely forgotten that the night before was the longest span of darkness for the year before and the year to come. Something made me realize it as I came awake in bed, and I hoped it was a sign that light is starting to break into the ice jam of darkness in my own mind, bringing to an end the exhausting and isolating but yearly phase of grey.
December 21st is both the Feast of St. Thomas and the shortest day (longest night) of the year. “Doubting” Thomas, the disciple who (in)famously declared he needed to touch Jesus’ wounds with his own hands before he would believe in the Resurrection, is by turns hailed as a hero–being honest and unapologetic about what he needed to believe, and condemned as a faithless, selfish, pseudo-disciple–putting God to the test, making demands of Jesus.
This year as I prepared and preached a sermon in celebration of St. Thomas, I contemplated the connection between his witness and the season–sure, it’s almost Christmas, but it’s also the darkest, most-depression-ridden time of year. Though his feast is now celebrated on 3 July in the Roman Church (the date which his relics were moved from one place to another), some other pieces of the Church still memorialize Thomas on 21 December–the date given to his remembrance more than a thousand years ago. Why might Thomas’ story be the one to ponder on the cusp of the longest night?
Considered with the epistle text also assigned for the day (Hebrews 10:35-11:1–below), a significance starts to emerge:
“35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.
37 “For yet a little while,
and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (RSV)
Like Thomas, we may face temptation to throw away our confidence. When our life experience doesn’t line up with what the Bible tells us about God, or when things just keep getting worse instead of looking up–we wonder why we even bother with all the fuss of prayer and faithfulness, as it doesn’t seem to help much anyway. We may even (right now!) be in the midst of the longest, darkest stretch of our entire lives. Questioning, doubt, frustration, fear, anxiety, insecurity may eat us up and leave little or no room for anything else–for any light to come in and send us a bit of strength. (just found today a very honest, wise young woman who writes on this with great articulateness & vulnerability)
Just as the sun rising on the morning of December 22nd reminded me that dark feelings do not last forever, we learn from the testimony of our brother Thomas and of the letter to the Hebrews (for which this blog is named) that all humanity belongs to God and that “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.”
Feast of St. John
27 December 2014
I take great comfort in the thoughts you have expressed in this post. The time running from All Hallows Eve to the Feast of St. Thomas and even up, until, and through the Nativity is very difficult for me also. There is something about losing the light day after day which evokes an eerie sense of loss and emptiness. The roar of secular Christmas only compounds that emptiness. But, the lesson you have taken from Hebrews gives me hope. From that lesson I take away two conclusions, (1) we must continue to seek God at all costs despite the lack of visible reward, as the scripture assures us that “he rewards those who seek him” (11:6) and (2) it is never too late to do so as in the case of Abraham who as one “as good as dead” was able to fulfill God’s purposes through faith (11:12).