When I was a kid, I loved The Dark Crystal, a movie made by Jim Henson and filled with some pretty fabulous puppets. It’s a story about two elf-like creatures (called gelflings, if you must know) who must evade creepy buzzard-like creatures and battle gigantic beetles and, eventually, save their entire land. These gentle creatures turn out to be big players, cosmically speaking, and it’s no coincidence that they’ve made their presence known during something called the Great Conjunction.
“The Great Conjunction is the end of the world!” proclaims a weird womanish creature named Aughra. “Or the beginning.”
There are those who think we’re on the brink of the end of the world around here, and we we’re without a single gelfling. The long-count Mayan calendar is set to end Dec. 21, which has sent loads of New Age-y true believers running for the hills—in some cases literally. Some wanted to head to the French village of Bugarach, believing that the tiny town might be spared because of the cool mountain nearby. (The town said thanks, but commemorate the end of the world elsewhere.) Another mountain, Mt. Rtanj in Serbia, is also rumored to be a safe apocalyptic harbor. Living in Colorado Springs, I’m surprised we haven’t seen a surge of folks setting up shop on the slopes of Pikes Peak.
Experts say the only real “end” the Mayans were fortelling is the end of the calendar: Time to go to Hallmark and pick up another one.
But let me admit something to you. While I don’t believe the world will stop turning Dec. 21, there have been times when it’s felt like the end of the world.
The Newtown massacre hit lots of us pretty hard, and I think we might be excused for feeling, in the wake of the tragedy, that our culture was going a little wrong. There have been seven mass killings in 2012: Seven too many. It can feel as though we’re unsafe no matter where we go or what we do. A sick, unstable person has the power to take what’s most precious to us and tear our worlds apart.
We’re struggling with other issues, too. The Fiscal Cliff. Climate change. Uprisings in the Middle East. Economic strife in Europe. It’s hard to be a glass-half-full sort of person when the glass seems full of holes.
There’s a reason why the Mayans pegged Dec. 21 as the day their calendar ended. It’s the winter solstice—a natural completion of a year and the shortest, darkest day of the year. It was a time when the land was at its bleakest and gloomiest. Perhaps those not familiar with the cyclical nature of the seasons might wonder whether things would ever get better. The solstice was, in many cultures, a time of celebration—a seasonal understanding that, yeah, things may look pretty black now, but they’re bound to get brighter; bound to get better.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the Christian Church chose to celebrate Christ’s birth on Dec 25, so very close to the solstice (most scholars seem to think Jesus was probably born in the spring or fall), and why lights—from advent candles to LED displays—are such integral parts of celebrating Christmas.
Really, what better time is there to celebrate the arrival of the world’s only true light, only true hope, but in the darkest part of the year?
Things may look pretty bleak right now. The world feels dark and cold. I feel the chill everywhere. But as Christmas itself tells us, sometimes the darkest of times can bring life to the brightest of hopes. And though it may feel like the end of the world, it might be just a new beginning.