The Shining Night


Recently I noticed how many of our beloved Christmas songs refer to night.  “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” are the most obvious examples–but we also have “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, and lines in other songs like:

But in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light

or: In midst of coldest winter at darkest midnight hour.

In Scripture, Christmas actually is associated with night–we read in Luke’s gospel:

There were in that same country shepherds abiding in the fields, watching

over their flocks by night; and the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory

of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  (Luke 2:8-9) 

I suspect that’s one reason why most people come to church on Christmas Eve–and why church attendance on Christmas morning is so sparse.  Deep down, we realize that Christmas is a night festival.   (The exact opposite happens on Easter–the Saturday Vigil is sparsely attended, but the morning services are crowded.  In our hearts, we seem to feel Easter as a morning festival).  We sense the truth of a marvelous verse from the Apocrypha that is sometimes used in Christmas liturgies:

While all things were in quiet silence, and night was in the midst of her swift course,

your almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of your royal throne.

(Wisdom 18:14).

When God became human, He was born at night.

That’s rather significant, I think–because we tend to have negative feelings about night.  In popular culture, night is sometimes seen as the time of evil.  (As Dracula intoned upon hearing the wolf howl: “Children of the night!”) Certainly it’s a time when our problems seem magnified–when all the negatives in our lives loom much larger, and melancholy and hopelessness threaten us.  (I once attended a suicide-prevention workshop in which a speaker said, “Never make a major decision at night–because things always look better in the morning.”  That strikes me as a brilliant piece of advice.)  One reason people tend to get depressed this time of year is simply because night seems to be so long–as several people have remarked to me, “When I go to work, it’s dark.  When I come home from work, it’s dark.”  (I have often thought that, if it weren’t for the joy of Christmas, the long nights of December would be almost unendurable!)

Night is often seen as a time, not to enjoy, but to endure- a time we have to struggle through. (Anyone who has ever suffered from insomnia can testify to that!) Frank Sinatra famously said, “I’m for whatever gets you through the night.”  Louis Armstrong sang, “Lord, You Made the Night Too Long”, and Kris Kristofferson pleaded, “Help Me Make It through the Night.”  (I suspect much reckless behavior–with illegal drugs, over-consumption of alcohol, and illicit sexuality–happens because of this need to “make it through the night”). 

So night can be a sad time.  No wonder the Scriptures say:

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

And yet...and yet Our Blessed Saviour chose this melancholy time, this depressing time, to be born!  He was not born in the brilliant rays of noontime, but “at deepest midnight hour”.  That makes, I think, some wonderful points.  First, it shows that Jesus came into this world to share even the negative aspects of our lives.  When God became human, He did not come simply to taste our joys...He also came to share our sorrows. 

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows... (Isaiah 53:4).

By coming at the time of day when human sorrow is most intensely felt, then, He shows that He does not shun our sadness, but embraces it and makes it His own.  He comes to shoulder our greatest sadness–our sin, our distance from God–and die for that sin.  So perhaps the birth at night is even a foreshadowing of the cross.  (And remember: while the crucifixion took place in the middle of the day, the sun was darkened–so that it was, in effect, night when Jesus died!)

The birth of Jesus at night also, in a way, redeems night.  Perhaps night does not have to be such a melancholy time after all–as long as we remember that Jesus was born at night.  Even at night, His light is there:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1:5)          The prayer for Christmas Eve says: “O God, you made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light...”  Even night can be a time of joy, if we remember that Jesus was born during the night!

The next time you’re up late, vexed by a problem, unable to sleep, with your worries staring you in the face like two frightening eyes in the dark...remind yourself: Christ was born at night.  He has redeemed the night.  Yes, sometimes weeping comes at night...but Jesus our joy also came at night!  He above all others can “help us make it through the night”!  As the Scriptures say:

“O Lord, even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to You.”

May the Holy Night of Christmas bring you joy–at noon, at midnight, at every time of the day!

God loves you and so do I!