The darkness of this night is different.
This night there is no need to quicken your pace as you walk past the dark alleys. This night there is no need for you to put anything sharp between your knuckles in protection as you walk. This night there is no need for children to draw the blankets up to their faces in fear.
Of course, no one knows this. The dangers of the night still loom in the mind. Mary and Joseph find no place to stay as the dark hours loom near. And, the shepherds are fearful when the unexpected appears out of the dark reaches of their moonlit field just beyond the shadows cast by their sheep.
Everyone knows what lurks in the darkness. Creatures approach from the shadows to devour. Dark figures devise plans. The poor reach out from unexpected places with their dirty hands. The unscrupulous work the fields with their shepherd’s staffs in hand.
But, the darkness of this night is different. This night, the darkness is filled with goodness. Like a gift that resides in the darkness of its wrapped package, waiting to be discovered, the good news of God waits with excitement to be revealed.
This night the words “Do not be afraid” echo through the lowly places of the world as the light of the angels pierce the shadows. The shepherds hear these angelic words that dissipate fear in the same way that Mary and Zachariah heard previous nights.
“Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
Good news is not reserved only for the joyous halls of celebration and light. Good news is not reserved for the well-off and important with their many gifts. Good news is not reserved for those who have it all put together in life with clothes to match.
Sometimes, God will send the good news into the dark places, in order to shine on shepherds who live in the shadows of the night and grace the dirty animal stalls and mangers.
This night, the good news of God is especially for the dark and lowly places. It is a gift in the lowly places, so that those trapped in the darkness might see a great light. Jesus Christ came into this world, not to hide in the well-lit societies of this world, but to dwell in the darkness, bringing light and love to all.
The darkness of this night is different. This night, the Christmas trees don glimmers of light. Legend holds that Martin Luther once walked in the dark of a starlit, winter night in order to concentrate and compose a sermon. During his walk, he was struck by the beauty of the starlight shimmering through the evergreens. When he got home, he wired lit candles into a tree in order to recreate the wonder and beauty of light in the darkness for his family.
And now, it is a truth that is preached nightly in most homes. Whenever you see the Christmas tree, you hear the message that God is a God who does not fear the darkness. God is a God who enters into the dark places in order to bring light and love. God is a God who decides to take on flesh, walk around, and enter into the dark places in order to grace the darkness with goodness and healing. God is a God who makes the darkness beautiful and good.
The darkness of this night is different. But, it does not have to be. The goodness of God does not stop with the gift of light in a manger, though it starts there. The goodness of God does not stop with a lowly baby wrapped in bands of cloth, thought is starts there. The goodness of God does not stop after the gifts have been given, the coins placed in the red pales, and the abundant dinner eaten.
There is something beautiful about Christmas lasting 12 more days; it is a reminder that this night is not the completion of a story, but the very start. There is still plenty of healing to be done, plenty of hungry to be fed, and lots of sins to be forgiven. Jesus’ love of gracing the dark places has only just begun.
So, the darkness of this night is not so different after-all, for unto you a savior has been born who will continue to bring good news to the dark nights…every night. The darkness is not a place to be feared, it the place where Jesus redeems the world. That makes every night a holy night, full of goodness and light.
There’s nothing wrong with leaving that Christmas tree up for a while. Let its light and beauty preach to you well beyond Christmas Day until God makes all nights become for you holy nights.