Of Solstices and Saviors

Of Solstices and Saviors

December 22, 2023 by Gregg DeMey

Yesterday was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year here in the north. The sun was above the horizon in Chicago for a mere 9 hours and 7 minutes – that’s 15 hours of darkness. On these short, bleak days, it can be difficult to remember back to the warm, expansive days of summer when green and growing things popped from every corner. But in the Church, there is an even older, deeper memory that we are invited to call to heart and mind. Through worship, with the aid of carols, kids, and candles, we are invited to remember the coming of our Savior: Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, Christ who was born to save.

“Remember” is a funny word. Most of the remembering that we’re asked to do at school or on the job is what brain scientists call Type-1 or “semantic” remembering. Successful Type-1 remembering means that you test well – that you’re able to spell out the details of the periodic table of the elements as needed, or recall the details of last quarter’s financial report, or the names of all your grandchildren by birth order, etc. Part of the struggle every December for our student population is that exams force short-term memories to be overstuffed with all the Type-1 details that a semester’s work has crammed into their cranial RAM drives.

You’ll be relieved to know that we have no plans at church to test anybody’s Type-1 skills over the holidays. To the contrary, we lean into a whole different way of remembering – less calibrated toward facts and information, more oriented towards meaning and significance.

As it turns out, both church and family depend on a memory system known as Type-3 or “procedural” remembering. Type-3 remembering is the capacity to repeat what you’ve done before, even if it has been a while. For example, if you haven’t ridden a bike for a few years, your muscles remember how without even having to think about it.

At church, in the realm of the Spirit, the most important remembering throughout the year happens around the Communion Table as we recall Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection together. This weekend, we’ll do deep remembering on Christmas Eve as we light candles together amidst the darkness and see again with our eyes that Jesus really is the Light of the World. The darkness may seem strong at the winter’s solstice, but the Savior shines all the more brightly for it.

Similarly, in our homes, it is important to remember family bonds simply by sitting around a dinner table and sharing food with your people. Opening Christmas stockings and gifts is a crucial way to remember that you have folks who take delight in your delight, who are generous toward you, who are willing to give and sacrifice for you, and vice versa. We whisper old familiar words of love, tell the oft-told tales, and embrace one another. With those whom we love the most, there is no great need for Type-1 lists and facts, just Type-3 experiences.

Wishing a blessed helping of those experiences to you and yours this Christmas.

– Pastor Gregg

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