It’s Christmas Eve 2015. Tonight, many of us are heading off to Christmas Eve services and masses; St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC has their Midnight Mass. Others are going to Christmas Eve celebrations and dinners, as some celebrate the night. There are those doing last-minute gift wrapping, decorating, cooking, and yes-even shopping.
Tonight, we read about Mary and Joseph in a dirty manger welcoming their son, Jesus into the world. Tonight, God’s Christ-the light to pierce through the night of our souls-was witnessed by barnyard animals; which was an ceremonially unclean environment for a Jew. This lonely couple was the only ones to witness Jesus coming into the world; there were no family or friends to celebrate the birth. No women to tend to Mary as she delivered her son. No men to pat Joseph on the back and congratulate him on having a son to carry on his name.
Then later that night, shepherds from the nearby countryside-on news from angels-came to check out Mary, Joseph and Jesus. A bunch of roughnecked men (and probably women) who worked and slept among smelly sheep (and were smelly themselves) were the first outsiders to come to the manger. These people were also considered ceremonially “unclean” per the Law; and were usually poor. Then these same people went out that night to tell others, which was done by foot. There was no Facebook, Twitter, or other social media back then. No one videotaped the delivery, or Jesus’s first moments and posted them on YouTube.
All the above took place at night. Night in Jesus’ day was not like night is in our day. Jewish and Roman society was not the 24-7 society of today, where people would hang out at restaurants, bars or shows. Towns and villages back then shut down at sundown, or shortly thereafter; and the streets were usually deserted. The only folks who were out at night were prostitutes, criminals, the shepherds, fishermen…usually the lower echelons of society. Night was a dangerous time for a family to be alone-even in a manger. In fact, night will factor greatly in the life and ministry of Jesus. Plus, in a metaphorical sense, “night” in Scripture meant spiritual darkness, and was a time of danger.
Begging the title question: was that night a holy night with all that went on? Yes it was. You see, it wasn’t just holy because Jesus was born; it was holy because that night everyone and everything was made holy. The lonely parents felt the presence of God as their brokenness was made whole. The unclean was made clean. The shepherds were transformed from unclean outcasts into cleansed messengers of the Divine. That which was marginalized was now integrated into the Kingdom/Queendom of God. It was indeed a Holy Night.
And it didn’t stop on that ancient night. Tonight is also a Holy Night. The light of Christ is still making everyone and everything holy. Yes, I dare to say that our world and our species are holy; it’s just that we never took the time to realize this. The Divine Light of Jesus-God’s Christ-is still shining on us and our world: making holy, making whole; and making healed. And this light will keep shining until the end of time.
So maybe tonight you’re at church wondering if the hymns and Christmas messages apply to your-yes they do; for you are holy. You might be at a celebration-either at a home or at a club-wondering if you can still be holy after having one too many; yes you can since you are holy. You’re at work feeling depressed wondering if your broken heart can be made whole; yes it can because it’s a holy heart. In fact, you may be lying in bed in a one-night-stand so you won’t feel lonely tonight; and will leave during the night so you can get home before dawn wondering if you can still be cleansed; yes you can because you’re still holy.
O Holy Night? Oh yes it is! And like the song concludes: “O Night Divine.”
Peace on Earth, Good Will to Humanity.
(Post image: “At Night.” Taken by Me)