Thursday, December 08, 2016
“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons…’” (Genesis 1:14)
Throughout all of recorded history, the human imagination has been fueled by what was observed in the heavens. Around the world in all cultures and among believers of all faiths, the daily rising and setting of both the sun and the moon brought forth rich religious symbolism. Likewise, the passing of the seasons and the changing movement of the stars with those seasons, inspired symbols and myths.
The winter Solstice which usually occurs during the third week of December in the earth’s Northern Hemisphere is the shortest day of the year. And yet from ancient times, among virtually all people, this Solstice was venerated as a time marking the return of light to the world. From this date, onward, the days become increasingly longer, culminating in the longest day of the year six months later. In regions that experience cold weather or intense winters, the light also symbolized the eventual return of life-giving warmth. Light also became a powerful metaphor: light dispels darkness; light reveals what was hidden; light bring clarity of vision.
When pagan nations embraced Christianity, they continued their solstice celebrations as Christmas, interpreting the return of sunlight as symbolic of the coming of divine light into the word, embodied in the birth of Jesus Christ. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which is also celebrated during the same of the year, commemorates the return of light to the ancient temple in Jerusalem during the time of the Maccabees.
As the Winter season sets in, a reminder that, despite the darkness and cold, the days are becoming longer and brighter, can be a source of hope. The coming of light to a darkened world is found throughout scripture:
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (See Isaiah 9:2 and II Nephi 19:2 )
The Advent Season—the four weeks leading up to Christmas—encourages us to look forward with eager anticipation the coming (the Advent) of Christ and his Light into the word. The theme of Advent’s first week is Hope.
Hope is one of the three spiritual gifts and virtues extolled in the writings of the Apostle Paul and in “The Book of Mormon”—the other two being Faith and Love (Charity).
The first followers of Jesus embraced a belief in the resurrection of the body—a belief that death itself was only temporary; that God would bring about a renewal of the heavens and the earth and establish an eternal realm of justice, righteousness and peace. All who had died would be restored to life and be invited to take part in God’s eternal Kingdom.
But despite this belief, the world remained unchanged overall. In fact, many who converted to this new faith became objects of scorn, ridicule and outright persecution by the legal authorities of the time. Despite a belief in a future of Light, the present remained Dark.
In such a time, the concept of Hope became important to these believers. Despite the advances of the past two thousand years since, the world can still be seen as a dark place. Violence, injustice, ignorance and hatred are as potent in our day as they were in millennia past. Hope for a world over which peace, justice, knowledge and love flow like a river is still a powerful force—not only in the struggle to maintain an individual’s private faith but also in the advancement of the human family generally.
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” (Ether 12:4)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
How have you used the symbols of “light” and “darkness” in your thinking and in your faith?
How is ‘hope’ different from ‘optimism?’
What could be the downside of always being ‘optimistic?’
What is the relationship between ‘hope’ and ‘knowledge?’
What is the relationship between ‘hope’ and ‘faith?’
To be a force for good in your life, where should your hope be focused? Why?
SHARING FOOD FOR THOUGHT:During the coming days, in conversations with three different friends or family members why not try bringing up these questions and see where the conversation goes:
Do you think hope different from optimism? In what do you have hope? What would your life be like without this hope?
Don’t argue; don’t attempt to convince or convert one another to any particular idea. Just discuss your thoughts openly and honestly. Seek to understand one another first and then try to make sure your ideas are understood. The objective is to create a bond between yourself and the other person in which such ideas can be expressed openly and without fear; in which each person can be true to what they believe while still feeling respected by the other person. The objective is to strengthen the sense of community between you and others.
For more information on Reform Mormonism visit www.reformmormonism.org