What a wonderful night this is!
It’s light in darkness,
A virgin having a child,
A baby in a manger.
It’s the son of David born in Bethlehem,
It’s splendour on a hillside,
Angels singing to shepherds,
Glory to God and peace to men.
What a wonderful night this is!
Many aspects of Christmas can lose their charm for us, for whatever reason. But this story and its re-enactment in the Liturgy never does. It’s fresh every holy night. Such is the power of the Holy Spirit.
Isn’t it wonderful that, at the heart of our faith, there’s a mother and a child? Who’d have thought that this is how God’s grace would be revealed? It’s so simple, so human, so divine. It wrong-foots all our pride. It subverts us. It takes us on the side we least expected to be taken. And yet it affirms us. It’s God’s ‘yes’ to us beyond all our imagining. It’s God taking us on, into himself, indissolubly and for ever.
How beautifully Isaiah anticipates this night: ‘the people that walked in darkness has seen a great light’!
How profoundly St Paul reflects on it: he goes to its heart, God’s grace; he draws out its entailments for us, self-restrained, upright, prayerful living, with no ambition except to do good; he foresees its fulfilment, ‘the Appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’!
And how unforgettably St Luke describes it!
‘Caesar Augustus issued a decree.’ Caesar Augustus, no mean man, one of history’s greats. He created a peace around the Mediterranean that would last more than 200 years, he created an Empire that would last in the East almost 1500 years and in the west, as the Holy Roman Empire, all the way to Napoleon. His age was an age of cultural flowering, military expansion, financial stability. He found Rome brick and left it marble. All credit to him! He was hailed as saviour, bringer of peace; he was even called divine. And he belongs to the past. But the pregnant virgin on the donkey, the loyal fiancé by her side, and the child in the manger in the animals’ cave just beyond the pub – they do not. They founded an Empire that will never pass away, because it’s heavenly not earthly, the Church of the living God. They live in the hearts and minds of millions of folk all over the world. They are even now comforting the homeless, the refugees, the little people, the living and the dying. They aren’t myth. They aren’t mere history. They’re real. They’re now. They’re here.
Yes, tonight is a wonderful night.
‘God’s grace has been revealed’,
‘A child is born for us, a son given to us’,
‘In the town of David, a saviour, Christ the Lord’.
Tonight is a wonderful night. It is ‘a sign for you’, year after year, in difficulty or happiness, surrounded by a loving family or cold and lonely and afraid.
Tonight, the ‘jealous love of the Lord of hosts’ says ‘Yes’ to us, says to each and every one of us, ‘I love you’. ‘I love you’, not because you’re handsome or beautiful or rich or powerful or clever or nice, but just because I do. Just because you are: man, woman and child, my precious human creation. I love you so much that, in my Son, I have become one of you. I will live and die like one of you. I will go down into your dark night and turn it into day. I love you, my precious human creation. I will take away your sin on the Cross and your suffering and death in my Resurrection. You will be mine and I will be yours, ‘and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more.’ ‘The jealous love of the Lord of hosts will do this.’
‘O sing a new song to the Lord,
Sing to the Lord all the earth.
O sing to the Lord, bless his name.’
Tonight all this begins in Bethlehem. Tonight this love is unveiled, in the irresistible form of a baby. Tonight this love’s goal rises in the night of our hearts and of our poor troubled world.
Tonight, already, we glimpse the light of everlasting day, and so we pray:
‘O God, who have made this most sacred night radiant with the splendour of the true light, grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries of his light on earth, may also delight in his gladness in heaven, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.’