In years past, it has frustrated me to no end that many people here in Alaska begin moaning and griping as soon as we pass the solstice about how we are losing daylight now. My reaction has always been, "Really? We still have more than 20 hours of daylight... do you need something to complain about that desperately?"
This year, though, I've been reflecting on St. Augustine's words about the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, which we celebrated yesterday, in connection with the summer solstice and our gradual transition from this period of light into the near-total darkness in which we will be entombed before the Nativity of Christ in December. While I still don't believe that our loss of daylight is something to complain about, I have begun to see it as something that does bear taking note of.
In John 3:30, St. John the Baptist is reminding his disciples that he is not the Christ, and the words he chooses show a beautiful humility and understanding of his role. Looking at the Vulgate, we read: Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui. What a picturesque way of describing it! Jesus must crescere, must become visible or great, increase: the word is a cognate of the Italian crescendo, a term we use today in music for sound that begins softly and grows. John must minui, must be reduced, diminish. As our pastor put it yesterday, after John prepared the way and announced the coming of Christ, he faded into the background for Christ's public ministry.
With our celebration of John the Baptist on June 24, our hours of daylight begin to slowly slip away from us: as John gave way to Christ, so our light diminishes to almost nothing. It will not be until we celebrate the birth of Christ, on December 25, that we will being to gain light again: Christ crescendos, and our light increases daily until we again reach this point of near-complete sunlight.