Photo by Ales Krivec

The Darkest Night of the Year

Photo by Ales Krivec
Photo by Ales Krivec

Jesus’ arrival to earth was predicted in prophesy and expected by the people of Israel. Their once great nation with its grand Temple and the royal line of David had been decimated over the years. They had their monarchy split between Israel and Judah, they had their nation hauled off in captivity by Babylon. They had their Temple destroyed and ransacked. Then they had re-built it and restored their national identity only to have it invaded and occupied by the iron fist of Rome. 

Rumor had spread that the time of their deliverance was near, as predicted in the book of Daniel. They watched for miracles to begin.

No doubt, many marveled at the strange light that appeared in the sky.

But most, if not all, went about the irksome duty of registering for the census. And amid that political registration, which reminded every Israelite of their subservience to Rome, there was no room for thought, or presence of the promised Messiah.

His birth came to a young woman who was likely the subject of gossip and scorn for having become pregnant before her wedding to Joseph. This honorable man had thought to call off the wedding, although quietly to spare her added turmoil.

Angels appeared to all the principle participants, but not to their friends and family. They would have seemed like average, poor workers who had suddenly become religious fanatics, claiming to have seen angels and been spoken to God in dreams.

The delicate, defenseless child was born in a cave or stable amid beasts of burden. His birth was attended by shepherds, the lowly, filthy outcasts of society.

None of the religious scholars or sages took note of this momentous occasion.

In fact, it was a number of men from the East, probably the region of Iraq, that traveled a great distance, noting the star, and taking note of the prophesy in Numbers 24:17

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.”

No one else took note of the star that we know of. Only these Magi from the East.

But the announcement they had for Herod was threatening to him. A King of the Jews was distressing because this wild and angry man held himself to be their king. He killed family members at the suspicion of treachery. He would not allow this baby to live.

The Christmas story, then, is one of an ordinary, poor couple, called by God in secret, celebrating their child’s birth amid a stinky barn and attended by rough herdsmen. Unbeknownst to them, the only royalty that took notice, also sparked interest from the murderous Herod, who then ordered the slaughter of every male child two years and younger.

Mary and Joseph fled all that they knew to hide in Egypt until they were told it was safe to return home.

Not only did all this occur at such a dark time in history for Israel, but also for this humble family. Imagine the stress of people whispering about what appears to be a shameful pregnancy. Picture having to travel over hard terrain in the final stages of child bearing only to find that their only place would be a smelly stable.

Is this what God allows for the most blessed of all women? Is this  how God treats those He has selected for the grandest plan, the pinnacle of His redemption, pictured throughout all the Law and the Prophets? Is this what they’d waited for? To be hunted by a mad king, envious of God’s coming glory and desperate to destroy it?

Isn’t this how Jesus is received today? Like Herod, the world greets Christ with fear, bitterness, envy and anger. The world is okay mocking Christ as “baby Jesus,” keeping Him as a defenseless token of the Holiday Season. The world is fine with Christians whose celebration is ritualistic, or even based on a creed.

But the world will always seek to murder even the smallest demonstration of the rule of Christ, or His authority to have dominion over our souls.

The first Christmas came during the darkest night of history and it’s interesting that we celebrate it on the darkest night of the year. But the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Just like in Creation, God brought light into the darkness.

Do you celebrate the Light of the World? Or do you find it confusing, preferring the darkness because you’d rather do what seems right in your own eyes?

Be sure to answer while you still have time. More importantly, answer with penitence, humility and repentance, giving the true Light of Christmas the authority over your life.