Since the mid-1800s Twas the Night before Christmas has influenced our cultural expectations and celebrations of the Christmas holiday in the United States. Even though its authorship has been disputed, the poem has inspired many book versions, cartoons, and movies that have picked up the themes and influenced our views of Santa, what Christmas is all about and how we should be celebrating.
Despite the idyllic ideas of white snow, Jolly old sole, and gifts at tree and in stockings full the reality is that this pictures describes neither the first night before Christmas for the holy family, or our modern lives if truth be told.
In the first century, no one was expecting a night before Christmas as a Christmas was not on anyone’s radar. Even Joseph and Mary were probably hoping for the best, a delay in the giving of birth that might get the home before any child would be born. Innkeepers were not expecting anything grand, shepherd were simply watching sheep, and those most clued in, Joseph and Mary, had only a glimmer of hope and a trusting faith knowing nothing of what the birth of this child would mean for them or the world. The night before Christmas was a long grueling trip, unpleasant accommodations, and my guess a night of pain, confusion, strangeness, and loving-care all somehow wrapped up together. Only after the child was born would there be an angelic proclamation, not to the world, not to some nurses or mothers to help Mary out, but to shepherds who probably smelled more life sheep than humans.
Today, there may be some who play out the idyllic picture, but for most with means there is hectic planning and running around, no surprise to be found. Flights and drives and parties and dinners will all betray a sense of that first Christmas night. For many throughout the world with no means, there will be work like the shepherds of long ago, just to make a little bit of a living. There will be darkness of night and darkness of sufferings that for many will keep the night before Christmas far out of sight.
All this reflection simply to say, perhaps this night before Christmas, wherever we are at and whatever we are doing, there ought to at least be prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for all who find themselves in a place far from the light of Christmas day for whatever reasons. Perhaps a prayer that the light that came into the darkness will be a reality for all who are ready to receive the gift that has been given in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-18).
O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we se the lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in.