O Holy night. There is something particularly evocative about this hymn, which is the combined work of an obscure poet and a famous composer. In the original French, it’s called Minuit, chrétiens, or Midnight, Christians, calling our attention not only to the night, but the very moment of the birth of our Savior.
O Holy night. It makes me sense the beauty and intimacy of the birth of Jesus, and the humble harmony of the surroundings as the barn animals, the shepherds, and the heavens themselves rejoiced to welcome Jesus into the dimly lit and chilly stable. What a pleasure and reassurance for me and for you to be able to join in that harmony as we, too, come to adore Him.
If we move past the sweet lyric we all know and welcome, there is also a shock to our egalitarian senses, as we consider the proposal that one night should be holier than any other. If anything, we might concede any specialness to this night because we ourselves make it so: our traditions and our memories, our songs and our celebrations, make it sacred. We ourselves can make things sacred, but remember, this night is in fact holy, touched and changed by God. One objective action occurred in one moment, an action originating in no human hand nor mind. God came to us, and became one of us.
The cold, clear darkness of December, the barren trees, and the precious value of warmth and light help us all to share the sentiments of that moment, the moment when the barren darkness of human life was pierced by the radiant spark of divine life, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The hardy souls who staffed our Christmas tree lot this month – a particularly soggy and chill one – learned how precious are the moments one can huddle by the fire. By contrast, most of the time, our forays into the cold and dark are usually brief, and voluntary; we can quickly return – or choose not to leave at all – the comfy confines of our homes and offices, muzacked malls and the climate-controlled conveyances that shuttle us and our abundances from one pampering place to another. This ease we enjoy in our shirtsleeves can fool us into forgetting how far we have wandered from the sun.
We who enjoy the delights and security of the most prosperous society ever to dwell on this earth remind ourselves of our need for that light and warmth that comes only from God. So not only here, where it is winter -- even in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is high summer, and the tropics, where the sun always shines, the need is still great for the warmth and the light of Jesus.
Our moment, this moment, is needful of divine interruption as was that first Holy Night, when God and Good were far away and all we could manage on our own was disaster. The world around us still bears evidence of our chronic state of failure. It is tempting to think that the right personality, the right plan or program, and enough can-do spirit will bring about peace and security. But we know better; we know that the darkness is too much with us in our human nature.
No wonder so many folks prefer to come to celebrate the birth in the night, whether in the evening, as we wait for the holy moment; or at midnight, the time of mystery and marvel. The dreary desolation of a world who had abandoned God is achieved in a winter’s night, and the futility of human striving summed up in the recurring season of scarcity that surrounded Mary and Joseph as they made their way to Bethlehem and vainly sought rest and warmth of human making.
It is so good to know that whatever darkness is in our lives, whatever relations have gone cold, God takes the initiative to pour Himself into our world and forever change it, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye. As we remember and relive the moment that Jesus was born on earth, let us look to God for a moment when He erupts into our lives, a holy moment, a life-changing moment, a moment of divine peace and reconciliation.
This night, together as God’s people on earth, we have the privilege of recalling the circumstances that preceded the moment of Christ’s birth, and the change that moment wrought on every instant of every life that followed. The weather, and the long dark night, cooperate to remind us what we need from Him, and what, or Who, he gives us. O night divine, O night, when Christ was born!
For Father DeRosa and Father Nick, Ryan, Delfina, Jackie, Margie, and the whole rectory crew, please allow me to convey to you my heartfelt prayers that you and your dear ones know the touch of our Divine Savior this holy night. God bless you all with joy, and merry Christmas!