December Solstice and What It Means

December Solstice and What It Means

After today, Sunday, December 22, 2019, the hours of daylight will begin to be longer in the Northern Hemisphere where we live. Last night at 11:19 p.m. local time (Eastern Standard), the December solstice occurred as the Sun reached its lowest point in the dome of the sky, even though we couldn’t see it. It happened at the same moment all over the Earth, but, of course, local times varied. (It was at 04:19 Universal Time, and you can figure your local time from that.)

The December solstice ushers in winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. So for those of us in the north, the days will now start to slowly get longer as the weather gets colder. South of the equator, the situation is just the opposite. At the North Pole, there are 24 hours of darkness when the Sun never appears. At the South Pole, the Sun is up for 24 hours.

Although the December solstice is the time when the Sun is at its farthest point south, it hasn’t moved. We have. Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees from the path of its orbit path around the Sun. Each year that tilt causes us Earthlings to perceive that the Sun is moving north or south. Earth’s orbit is somewhat elliptical rather than a perfect circle. The point when Earth is closest to the Sun occurs in January during the Northern Hemisphere’s mid-winter. It’s mid-summer in the Southern Hemisphere, so you might think that their summers would be extra hot. Whatever increased heat would occur because of the proximity of the Sun is counteracted by the fact that the Southern Hemisphere is mostly covered by oceans which absorb the heat. That is just another part of our amazingly well-engineered planet.

In Genesis 1:14, we read that God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” Ever since Adam and Eve, people have recognized the Sun’s regular path across the sky and the changes in daylight, sunrise, and sunset times throughout the year. In ancient times, they didn’t understand why. We know why and we marvel at the design.

Every creature on Earth is affected in some way by the length of daylight. Historically, people in the Northern Hemisphere have celebrated the December solstice because it means the days will start getting longer, and spring will return. In ancient Rome, the people called their celebration Saturnalia and honored their pagan god Saturn with immoral behavior. With the coming of Christianity, the Christians re-purposed the holiday to honor the coming of Christ into the world. While the pagans celebrated with debauchery, the Christians made it a time of praising God and the gift of His Son. Jesus was almost certainly not born at this time of year, but more likely in the spring. However, we should take time to honor God for the beautiful design of our planet that makes life possible, and the wonderful gift of Jesus that makes eternal life possible.

— Roland Earnst © 2019

Lights of the Seasons

Lights of the Seasons
Genesis 1:14 says that God allowed the “lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night” and to serve as “signs to mark seasons and days and years.” We can call them the lights of the seasons.

Although light is essential for our existence, the Sun, Moon, and stars are intended to serve an additional purpose. In Genesis 1:1 God created the heavens and the Earth. “Heavens,” or “shamayim” in the original Hebrew, would include the Sun, Moon, and stars. Genesis 1:14 tells us that God lifted the cloud cover (described in Genesis 1:2 and Job 38:9) so that the heavenly lights could be clearly seen to establish the circadian rhythm, give us a way to determine directions, and allow us to mark the passage of time.

Today (December 21) is the time when the Sun reaches its lowest point in the sky. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the shortest daylight and marks the first day of winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the most extended daylight which marks the first day of summer. We call it the winter or summer solstice. The word “solstice” comes from two Latin words meaning “sun” and “stand still” because on this day the Sun appears to momentarily stop its southward journey and start back toward the north. (The opposite is true on June 21.)

When Earth has made one complete rotation on its axis, the Sun’s position shows us that one day of 24 hours has passed. When the Earth completes one revolution around the Sun (approximately 365 days), we can see that the Sun has finished one cycle of its apparent north-south swing. We know that one year has passed.

It’s the 23.4-degree tilt of Earth’s axis with respect to the Sun that causes us to have seasons as our planet makes its year-long solar revolution. That tilt makes it appear that the Sun is moving north and south through the sky each year and gives us seasons. Without seasons, only limited areas of Earth would be habitable. Without day and night, one half of the Earth would be baking in the sunshine while the other half would be continually cold and dark. When the Moon has made one revolution around Earth, we can see that it has completed all of its phases and we know that one lunar (or synodic) month has passed.

As we consider these lights of the seasons, keep one thing in mind. When Moses recorded the words of Genesis, people didn’t understand what caused “seasons, days, and years.” Now we do. We can see the full meaning of Genesis 1:14 when God opened the sky to reveal the lights of the seasons. Moses accurately recorded what God revealed to him, but he didn’t understand it. Science allows us to know how God did what He did. We believe that is what science is all about – discovering how God did it. True science and a correct understanding of the Bible are in complete agreement because God is the author of both.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Summer Solstice Is Here

Summer Solstice
Today is the day of the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the longest day and the beginning of summer north of the Equator and the shortest day and beginning of winter in the southern hemisphere. Today everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight will be more than 12 hours. In the Southern Hemisphere, daylight will be less than 12 hours.

The reason we have changing seasons of the year is that the Earth is tilted 23.5 degrees in relation to the Sun. As Earth orbits the Sun, the North Pole tilts directly toward the Sun today. At the same time, the South Pole is tilted away from the Sun. In exactly six months, the opposite will be true.

Why is the tilt of the Earth a good thing? If we didn’t have a tilted Earth, less of the planet would be hospitable for life. The area of the Equator would be extremely hot, and the northern and southern regions of the planet would be extremely cold all year. Without the changing seasons, the annual cycle of life would not happen. Life on Earth would not only be much more difficult, but it would also be much less interesting. If the tilt were much greater than 23.5 degrees, the extremes of the seasons would be much more dramatic. All animals and humans would have to migrate to survive.

The tilt of planet Earth is one of many “just right” factors that make our world not just a suitable place for life to exist, but an excellent place for advanced life to thrive. We think that is not an accident but by design. Will we ever find life on any other planet? The chances seem to be slim for any life. The prospect of finding another planet able to support advanced life is next to impossible. If God wanted to, He could create life anywhere. At present, in spite of the best efforts of astronomers to find a comparable planet, there seems to be no place like home.

Welcome to the summer solstice if you are in the Northern Hemisphere and welcome to winter if you happen to live on the southern half of the globe.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Autumn Equinox and Season Design

Autumn Equinox and Season Design
We have just passed the autumn equinox and what we call “the first day of fall.” It will be late December before fall officially ends at the winter solstice. On the first day of fall here in Michigan, it was unseasonably hot, and people were griping about “where is the cool fall weather we are supposed to have?” Long before the first day of winter on December 20-21, we will have snow. Is there something wrong with the seasons, or is the trouble with our understanding?

“Equinox” suggests that the length of the day is equal to the length of the night. The Sun is overhead at the equator, and from now until December 20 it will be directly overhead at progressively greater southern latitudes until it reaches just past 23 degrees south latitude. Here in the north, the Sun’s elevation above the horizon will get progressively lower, meaning that less and less of the Sun’s energy will strike the Earth’s surface so the weather will get cooler.

The problem with this simple picture is that there is a lag in the seasons. During the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere the lakes and oceans warm from the sunshine. Water has a high specific heat, so that heat is stored and is released slowly. That means we stay warm longer than expected in the fall. In the Southern Hemisphere the picture is complicated by the fact that the Earth is closer to the Sun during their summertime, so the radiation is more intense. That might be a problem except that the Southern Hemisphere has more water than the Northern Hemisphere because oceans cover more of the southern Earth’s surface. With that greater storage and absorption capacity moderates the temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere.

The autumn equinox reminds us of the incredibly well-designed system of the Earth. It is easy to over-simplify the seasons and the equinoxes and solstices, but the system functions remarkably well. Without that careful design, the weather picture would be far more unstable than it is. Proverbs 8:22-31 speaks of wisdom’s involvement in all of the creation. We are just now beginning to understand how the system works and how our use of Earth’s resources affect the system.
–John N. Clayton © 2017