I said Monday that Hanukkah is uniquely a holiday of the night. But really Christmas is, too. All the old carols assume that Jesus was born at night. And that’s most likely true. My midwife friend tells me that, when you don’t induce or otherwise intervene, most babies are born at night.
But, regardless of what time of day (or night) Jesus was born, Scripture and symbolism both tell us that the celebration of his birth is a celebration of light coming into great darkness.
Christmas, says, N.T. Wright, is celebrated as:
. . . a season of nostalgia, of carols and candles and firelight and happy children.
But that misses the point completely.
Christmas is not a reminder that the world is really quite a nice old place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place, where wickedness flourishes unchecked, where children are murdered, where civilized countries make a lot of money by selling weapons to uncivilized ones so they can blow each other apart.
Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight. You light a candle in a room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are.
The light shines in the darkness, says St. John, and the darkness has not overcome it.