Long before there were scientific instruments or calculations to figure such stuff out, prehistoric people knew something was up. It was getting colder. Nights were getting longer. More disturbingly, the sun wasn't rising as high in the sky. Each day, its peak was closer and closer to the horizon.
If something didn't happen, maybe one day it wouldn't peak above the horizon at all, and there would be nothing but frigid darkness.
Prehistoric people didn't know exactly what the sun was, but they knew it brought light and it brought warmth, and their lives depended on both. When it was warm and daylight lasted longer, plants grew and animals were plentiful. There was food to be found.
But when the darkness lasted longer and the cold grew more bitter, plants withered, animals became scarce--and people died.
Around this time of year, they noticed that the sun started rising again. We know that the sun stops descending in the northern hemisphere on December 21st, and the very next day--today, in fact, it starts rising a little higher.
Solstice. From the Latin sol, meaning "sun", and sistere "to cause to stand still." The sun stops descending and starts heading in the opposite direction.
It's not easily noticeable at first, not without instruments and mathematical formulas. It took a couple of days for people to notice that the sun had started rising higher in the sky
Probably around December 25th is when they saw it. The promise of warmth. That the darkness wouldn't overcome the light. That Life had returned to earth.
And so they celebrated.
And so do we.
"What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." John 1:3-5
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