St. Lucy's Day

247px-Salisbury Cathedral St Lucy

There’s an Advent hymn that bids us “look east” to see the “turning of the year.” I don’t know whether you hate these short days of autumn as much as I do, but today is the day I look forward to almost more than Christmas, because today the year actually begins to turn. But if we want to see it, we must look to the west, not the east. 

Many of the songs we sing at this time of year – and certainly our Scripture readings – speak of Jesus as the Sun, the Dawn, and the Daylight, so it makes sense to look east for the turning of our year. However, the year doesn’t turn all at once, and – perhaps surprisingly – it begins to turn in the west. 

Tomorrow the sun will set one minute later than it does today. But, it will be more than three weeks before the sun begins to rise earlier – in the east. December 22nd is the shortest day of the year, in terms of absolute minutes of daylight, but when the sun goes down at 4:50 this afternoon, this is the earliest it will set all year. Our year has turned, and beginning tomorrow our afternoons, at least, will grow a little longer.

Appearances notwithstanding, I’ve planned this as a homily, not just a lecture on meteorology.  But changes in the sun’s course have always been deeply significant, and our Church year incorporates their importance into our liturgy. Three days after the shortest day of the year, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World. This feast falls right between two other feasts of light: twelve days after today’s feast of St. Lucy, and twelve days before the Epiphany on January 6th, the celebrated Twelfth Day of Christmas, when the sun will begin to rise earlier each morning.

I have heard that Thomas Merton once said the invention of the electric light was one of humankind’s more dubious achievements, for our artificial lights allow us to turn our backs on nature. They also make light cheap, and they make it cool. At this time of year we call Jesus the Sun and the Dawn – not just because he makes the world bright – but because he makes it warm. Today’s readings tell us Elijah and John the Baptist did the same thing, reminding us that the one who is to come will not simply enlighten our minds; he also comes to warm our hearts.

Jesus always appeals to our hearts. Herod, the chief priests, and the elders had all the intellectual smarts they needed, but their hearts were cold, and so, Jesus tells us this morning, “they did not recognize [John] but did to him whatever they pleased.” The year has turned – for us and for them. The question – for them and for us – is whether we’re willing to turn, too. As we welcome the return of Christ’s light and warmth, we must ask ourselves whether things are going to be different? And if so, how?

Unfortunately, the story of St. Lucy has as unhappy an ending as that of John the Baptist. The legend says she was betrayed by a lover who was so offended she had taken a vow of virginity he denounced her as a Christian to the authorities. Lucy lost her life for love, but the real loser was her lover. He understood the warmth of love, but he misunderstood its source. Our love is only a reflection of God’s love, so our light and warmth are only a reflection of his.  

Back there in the Garden, God created us to be mirrors, so that He could look down and see His features in ours, and so that we could look up and find our faces reflected in His. Mirrors shine, but they can only shine the light that they reflect.   Today reminds us that if we’re willing to turn our love completely toward the light and warmth of Christ’s love, we will find we have a great deal to share with the world.

--by Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.

 5890 Birch Court   ~   Oakland, CA   ~   94618-1627  ~   510.596.1800   ~   Western Dominican Province
© St. Albert's Priory, 2014