Night of Wonder

By H. Boone Porter

That God should come among his people as a little baby is dumbfounding. It defies all our categories, all our patterns of orderly and reasonable thought. Of course, some theologians, some preachers and teachers, and even some poets, have tried to describe the Lord’s birth in ways that would make it seem logical, sensible, and even predictable.

It is permissible to ask whether such presentations may not be misrepresentations. Birth always has the glow of the miraculous about it. The unfolding of a butterfly from its earlier dormant state, the hatching of an egg, or the emergence of a warm-blooded puppy, cub, or foal — all of these are events arousing wonder. How much more does human birth! How much still more does the birth of our blessed Savior!

No matter how long foreseen or how well prepared for, birth, like death, comes as a surprise, an event different from what we calculated, exceeding our reckoning. It draws us out of time as we usually experience it, out of the normal flow and routine of daily life.

Many of us find the celebration of Christmas particularly appropriate at night — literally outside the day. Midnight mass, even if it is at ten or 11 o’clock, expresses this, for midnight is that instant which is neither one day nor the next, a crack or gap in the calendar, when ghosts and spirits of time past can slip back into the world, and also when angels can fly in and sing.

So too there is a sense of timelessness in the proverbial white Christmas. T.S. Eliot suggests this so well in one of his greatest poems:

Midwinter spring is its own season. . .

Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.

When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire. . .

(Little Gidding, I)

Is it escapism to celebrate a feast which takes us at least briefly outside of time and outside of this created world as we normally know it? We would say no.

It is fitting and proper to celebrate such a feast, and to have a feast affect us in such a way. We can live better lives in this world if we have occasional glimpses of the world beyond. We cannot live by bread alone, nor were we created only to tread this earth. So let us stop, and let us hear the angels sing.

The Rev. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977-1990. This was published in the December 19, 1982 issue of The Living Church.


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