December 25, 2012 4pm and Midnight
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air
When Night Ends
Some centuries ago, a wise old rabbi once asked his students how they could tell when night had ended and day was on its way back.
The students first responded, “Could it be when you see an animal in the distance and can tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?” The old rabbi answered, “No!”
Then the students said, “Could it be when you look at a tree in the distance and can tell whether it is a fig tree or a peace tree?” And again the old rabbi answered, “No!”
Now the students were frustrated. So they asked, “Well, then, when is it?”
The old rabbi responded, “It is when you look on the face of any man or woman and see that she or he is your brother or sister. Because if you cannot do that, then no matter what time it is, it is still night.”
O Holy Night
Tonight, we celebrate a very special night.
The famous Christmas Carol proclaims this O Holy Night. And we call this Holy because what happens on his night marks or intends to mark the end of night.
The birth of Jesus Christ is the moment when “day is on its way back,” to use the words of the wise, old rabbi. This makes night begin to end and day begin to return in several ways.
Day Returns: Brothers and Sisters
First, the infant in Bethlehem embraces all human beings.
This child attracts and reaches out to the poor, lower-class, uneducated shepherds. And he attracts and reaches out to the more affluent, upper-class, educated wise men.
With his outstretched arms, Jesus sees everyone as brother and sister. And so, with him, the day is on its way back as we are empowered to look on the face of all persons and see our oneness with them.
The words of O Holy Night invite us to do this.
“Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.”
Day Returns: Self-Worth
And then the infant in Bethlehem affirms our absolute worth as persons.
God taking on our humanity proclaims the inherent value of each person. No longer do we need to look for self-worth or self-esteem in any other place.
The birth of Jesus has so fused the human with the divine that the night of self-doubt and self-deprecation is over. The day has come to feel assured of our inherent value, from our first moment in the womb to our last breath before meeting God face to face.
And again, the words of O Holy Night convey this so well.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
Day Returns: Hope
And finally, the infant in Bethlehem gives us hope.
Sometimes we grow weary trying to keep up with the stresses of everyday life. Sometimes we grow weary as we look at the extent of the problems facing our country and our world.
In the midst of this, the infant offers us the hope of “Emmanuel – God is with us.” He offers us the assurance of his presence each step of life’s way, sustaining us through each minute of personal “night” until personal “day” starts to come back.
And again, the words of O Holy Night lift up this hope.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
So, the night begins to end and the day is on its way back.
This happens because the infant in Bethlehem embraces all persons as brothers and sisters, affirms our absolute self-worth, and by all means gives us hope for the light of day. And so, no wonder we sing:
“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!”