and night was in the midst of her swift course,
thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven...
From an ancient Christmas evening prayer
Have you ever wondered why our main Christmas celebrations happen in the dark? Carol services, Christingles, Midnight masses, all happen at some stage of the night. Traditionally, angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds watching “their flock by night”, while the wise men’s journey was guided by a night time star. Father Christmas visits in the dark and all this is to celebrate the birth of Christ, whom Christians refer to as the light. So why the celebrations in the dark?
There are at least two reasons for this shrouding in darkness. Firstly, it is because the light of Christ shone into to a dark place, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” as John’s gospel says. This is a message as true today as 2000 years ago. Many people live dark lives due to illness, exploitation, despair, loneliness; the list goes on but we are celebrating, “The true light which enlightens everyone.” The world is not automatically a better place, because of this light, but it is a hopeful place because God, the source of love, beauty, goodness and life, dwells among us. Surely this is worth celebrating at any hour of the night (or day).
Secondly, the shrouding in darkness reflects the shrouding in mystery that is the Christmas story. Christians have long argued about just how God, in Jesus, can be a baby, a youth, a condemned criminal and a dying man. These arguments miss the point. This God-man did not come to define or philosophize how the human and divine can be joined together. He simply came to shine the light of divine love and life into the everyday. Yes an undefinable mystery but it can still be a real experience.
Whether or not you recall this mystery in the darkness of a night time celebration, may the light of Christ shine upon you and those whom you love, this Christmas time and through 2010.