Light, Dark, and St. Lucia

Last week, my family and I went to the St. Lucia services at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Andersonville. We’ve meant to go for several years but, since a friend’s sons were participating, we had the perfect excuse.

St. Lucia Day, we learned, is a huge deal in Sweden. It celebrates Lucia, a 5th century martyr and saint, who, according to legend, brough food to Christians hiding in Roman catacombs, lighting her way with a wreath of candles on her head. The service included attendees singing Swedish hymns and carols, two choirs, some Swedish folk dancing, and a procession of this years St. Lucia, wearing a wreath of candles on her head, with her attendants, carrying their candles in their hands.

Ultimately, this is a festival of light, held on what, in the Julian calendar, would have been the darkest day of the year. And it’s an appropriate marker of the Christmas season. Jesus is, after all, the Light. He leads us out of darkness and allows us to see.

Darkness has been particularly salient since we moved to Chicago. My city sits almost on the eastern edge of the Central time zone. That means that today, the winter solstice, the sun set at 4:23. It’s not the earliest place to get dark, of course, but that is pretty early. If I were still in New York, the sun would have set 9 minutes later. Where I grew up, tonight’s sunset will be at 4:45. And for those of you in Salt Lake, the sun doesn’t go down until 5:03. And while it’s never entirely dark in my city, the setting sun makes it harder to see and, as a massive cold front approaches, harder to stay warm.

But, Ebenezer’s priest reminded us last week, while Jesus brings light, that doesn’t mean the dark is evil, or even undesirable. After all, the Bible tells us, God created the heavens and the earth before creating light. God’s creative power flourished in the dark.

And we need the dark. The dark lets our body get the rest we need to function—by interrupting it with light, we may be depriving ourselves of much-needed sleep. We have a handful of dark sky locations where we can experience the majesty of the universe, with thousands of stars visible, as opposed to the roughly 35 visible to the naked eye in Chicago. Light pollution can be devastating to animals, including bats.

Which is to say, while light is good, so is darkness.

Christmas, which we celebrate just after the winter solstice, represents light returning to the world. And it represents the Light returning to the world. But as we remember the light, we should keep Lehi’s theology of opposition in mind. But maybe we should also think about whether we fully understand it. Maybe the necessary opposition isn’t a question of good and evil; maybe it’s a question of two goods, both of which we need to be whole people and whole children of God.

I look forward to the lengthening of the day; I look forward to being at the park with my kids at 9:00 and still being able to see. But in the meantime, I appreciate the chance to celebrate Jesus’ birth on one of the shortest days of the year, a chance to appreciate both the Light and the darkness.

Merry Christmas!

Image: Vergós Workshop. Saint Lucy, About 1500. The Art Institute of Chicago. CC0 1.0.


  1. Light and Dark says:

    This reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” We need the dark just like we need the light. Thanks for that reminder.

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