Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright ‘round yon virgin mother and child! Holy Infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.
Youngest asked me this morning when Jesus was born. This seems like an odd question, but then he followed up with, “because everyone celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve.” Clearly, we’re the Protestant flavor of Christian, because he’s never been to Christmas mass.
I’m sure there’s a historical progression that moved the Christmas celebration from December 25 to the eve of December 24th. I haven’t looked it up. I’m guessing it has something to do with midnight mass – wanting to join the angels in announcing the birth of Christ at the first possible moment of Christmas day. For me, I liked the differentiation between celebrating the birth of Christ (Christmas Eve) and the arrival of Santa (Christmas morning).
As I’ve been thinking about it today, I think it’s also the anticipation – and that’s best shared with others. Christmas Eve day (except the year I preached three services) is a relaxing family day for us. Today we made breakfast and played games. In the evening, we cook dinner and attend in Christmas Eve worship together.
At some point in the afternoon we start our newish-Christmas tradition of reading Scripture and opening gifts. Each hour, someone reads a Bible verse and explains why they chose it. Then each person opens a gift, one at a time. We do small, rather than large gifts, and I wrap everything separately, so this can go on for awhile. One year, the boys received watches and set their timers to go off every hour. Now we sometimes miss it because we are in the middle of a game or a meal. The ritual continues until it’s time for bed.
I don’t know what that first Christmas Eve was like for Mary and Joseph. I’ve always understood that they arrive in Bethlehem, find a place to stay and then Mary has the baby. But I doubt it really happened that way. In Judea for the census, they may have been there for awhile before Jesus was born. Right then, their little spot at the inn was home for them. Nine months pregnant, Mary and Joseph probably weren’t out socializing but might have simply spent a quiet evening together. It may have been a silent night as they anticipated the birth of Jesus – and a holy night as he was born before shepherds and magi and other well-wishers came.
I treasure these quiet Christmas Eves; I ponder them in my heart. In a few short years, Eldest will be in college, and then both boys. Friends (or girlfriends) will join our Christmas time together. And then spouses, and grandchildren! Each year will be a special blessing, and I welcome all who join us as friends or family on Christmas Eve. But for tonight, I am thankful for this silent and holy night filled with heavenly peace.