A Yule bonfire in Iceland, courtesy of Jo's Icelandic Recipes
Once upon a time, not all that long ago, I used to be a heathen. I don't mean figuratively; I mean literally. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
So you might wonder why I am devoting a post to an observance that many equate with paganism, or that may remind me in a troubling way of a past spiritual detour away from the Christian faith.
Well, it's like this: Just moments ago, I heard the St. Olaf Choir and a Norwegian girls' choir in Trondheim sing a moving rendition of "Beautiful Savior" -- a hymn that, while of course praising Christ, also delights in the world Scripture tells us was made in and through and for Christ. Every so often, along with the rest of us who follow the Daily Office, I read The Song of the Three Young Men, that soaring canticle from the Old Testament Apocrypha in which everything in the created order is exhorted to praise God.
One of my old spiritual mentors from my university days used to opine that "creeping Gnosticism" was one of the greatest dangers to contemporary Christianity. One of the hallmarks of Gnosticism was its dualistic, antagonistic view of the material versus the spiritual worlds, completely contrary to the wholistic Hebraic way of thinking. The fear, in some Christian circles, of even acknowledging, much less celebrating, the created world as anything more than an interesting backdrop to the cosmic drama, is a symptom of creeping Gnosticism -- a discomfort with our enfleshed existence in a created universe. This does not square with Genesis' message of a world created with love and care by God and pronounced good. And I think this is an important point to make at a time when we are about to celebrate God's entering into this created world in a very real, tangible, enfleshed way, the same way that we all get here.
Christ entered a world of rhythms and seasons that touch our lives -- times of warmth and cold, of growth and harvest and fallow ground, of light and darkness. Our welcoming that point in time when the shortest, darkest day gives way to more light should in no way detract from or distract from our celebration, later this week, of the Light of the World breaking into our spiritual darkness...quite the opposite. Take it from a reformed heathen who still welcomes the turning of the year's wheel into longer, brighter days.