By Jeanine Michaels
The winter solstice. The time of year when the sun reaches the tropic of Capricorn, and we have our shortest day and our longest night. I wasn’t aware of this as a teenager. It was the darkest day of the year, yet it became the most important day of my life, full of the Light of the World.
I went through a few tumultuous years leading up to my freshman year of high school. In the middle of seventh grade, my mom remarried and moved with my new stepfather to Florida, dragging me along. The youngest of three girls, my older sisters were out on their own, and I was the only one left at home. So, leaving all of my family behind, we began a new chapter in central Florida. It was Christmastime, which usually was such a magical time in our home. But this year was different. There were moving boxes everywhere, and we had to eat Christmas dinner in a restaurant! I remember crying myself to sleep each night. It didn’t even feel like Christmas.
In January, I started the second half of my seventh-grade year at a private school. I was the “new girl” with the Boston accent and didn’t exactly fit in. The school was a country club full of rich, entitled young people from other countries, interspersed with a few Americans. It was NOT a good fit for me, and my parents started to search for an alternate private school. Perhaps as an overreaction to the wild environment of this private boarding school, they decided to put me into a Christian school that accepted this Italian Catholic from Massachusetts. And I will forever be grateful that they allowed me to attend, even though I was not yet a “Christian.”
At my new school, we studied the Bible daily, had Chapel daily, and sang hymns acapella. My Bible homework was the bane of my existence. I couldn’t understand a thing from the King James version of the Bible I was required to read, a book I had never cracked open before my parents put me in this school. I remember crying one night as I struggled to understand what I was reading. My mother suggested I read the story in my children’s Bible and then read it in the KJV. So, in desperation, I tried it. And it helped! So I began turning to my children’s Bible to grasp the concepts I was supposed to learn. Slowly, the Word began to become less of a mystery. Drip. Drip. Drip. The water of the Word was doing its work in my heart.
By the ninth grade, I had memorized quite a few verses that were hidden in my unregenerate heart. The guy I liked was a Christian who had attended the school since he was a small boy. And he began sharing the basic tenets of the Gospel with me. I adored my Bible teacher, Mr. Shyers, who was a gifted communicator and pastored the local church and taught at the Bible school.
I’m not sure why we were going through a text that covered the crucifixion of Jesus right before Christmas break, but that is where we happened to be studying. Mr. Shyers described, in detail, what Jesus endured on His journey to the cross. His words painted the most vivid picture in my mind. I remember being embarrassed that I sat at my desk with tears falling down my face at the thought of them ripping His beard out, the scourging, the beatings, His face unrecognizable, all for me. My classmates seemed to have been inoculated to the story and were not nearly as emotional as I was. I know it was because my heart was finally ready for the Gospel to take root. I understood for the first time what Jesus did to purchase me back from the enemy. I pulled myself together just as the bell rang and Christmas break began.
Of course, Christmas is a great time to evangelize because that Baby in the manger is so non-threatening. Everywhere I turned was a reminder of this Gift that God sent; For unto us a Son is born, Baby Jesus, Away in a Manger, and O Holy Night.
In the wee hours of December 21st, I woke up in the living room, sleeping on the pull-out sofa because guests had my room. I sat up, stretched and yawned, and said, “Today I’m going to give my life to Jesus!” Then I laid back down and went back to sleep. Typical teenager! When I finally got out of bed later that morning, as the house was coming to life with visiting family, I called Mr. Shyers and asked if he could meet me at his church. I called my friend, Teresa, and asked her to go with me and she agreed. We met Mr. Shyers at the church, and I told him how his teaching on the crucifixion had impacted me. Coupled with the Christmas season, I had been thinking about it a lot. I was ready to give my heart and life to Jesus, so we all prayed together. It was electric! After we prayed, he said, “Let’s get you baptized.” The three of us went to the baptismal. He baptized me right then and there. I came up out of the water with the most unusual response. I felt clean and beautiful! I looked like a drowned rat, but I felt beautiful and whole. I felt regenerated, and I was.
So while many dread the winter solstice, I celebrate it! For me, what typically is the darkest day of the year is a reminder that the Light of the World came into our dim world and pierced the darkness forever.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” Isaiah 9:2
Scriptures quoted from the New King James Version.
Photo by Göran Strand, Lunar Halo: When is the winter solstice?
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