O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine…
I’ve been meditating on the words of that song. O, Holy Night. Yes, it was a holy night. But it probably wasn’t December 25th, Christmas celebrations notwithstanding.
Why don’t we know the date of the “holy night”?
The Bible is full of special feasts and events, all of them very exact about when they are to be celebrated. For example, the Feast of Weeks: “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord…” Leviticus 23:15-16 Why wouldn’t such a momentous occasion as the birth of God’s own Son be recorded in such an exact manner?
The only dates we know for sure about Jesus (not year, but day) are those of His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, because they happened during the Passover celebration. But the date of His actual birth is mostly a field for speculation.
As I was thinking about this, two possible reasons for such deliberate silence came to me:
Our celebrations should focus more on Christ’s work of redemption than on the moment He left Mary’s womb.
It’s staggering that God took upon Himself the form of a human, that He made Himself at once fully divine and fully mortal man. Yet perhaps our eyes should focus on the why. Why did He come? Not to show that He could pull off such a stunt, certainly. Jesus came because God from eternity past had known He wanted a people to call His own, to bring Him glory. He saw those He deigned to call His children, dirty, lost, and sin-ridden, and He felt pity and love. He wanted to do something truly amazing. He wanted to save us. So when we celebrate the Advent of Christ, we should see why He came.
Christ came to the world around nine months before that holy night.
The Bible consistently shows a great concern and honor for life in the womb. For example, the psalmist David wrote hundreds of years before Christ these words:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…” Ps. 139:13
Perhaps (and, yes, this is speculation on my part), perhaps one part of the reason we don’t know the date of the holy night is that we’re being reminded that the first moment the Baby Jesus drew breath was not the first moment his heart beat in Mary’s womb. (That’s why John leapt inside his mother Elizabeth’s womb when pregnant Mary came to visit Elizabeth–he recognized Christ already, by divine revelation.)
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:41-45
We will probably not know the full truth until we reach heaven. But, for now, as we celebrate Christmas, these may be profitable thoughts upon which all of us can dwell. Yes, there was a holy night. But Christ had been alive as a human before that night, in the womb. And the reason He came was not so that we would have a day with our families, eating massive amounts of food and exchanging gifts. He came so that He could redeem His people.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…” Luke 1:68
Amen and thanks be to God for His marvelous gift.