One of the many reasons why I love the Christmas Eve service is that it takes place at night. There is something special about celebrating worship after sunset, when the gift of darkness gives our prayers a new dimension. And while darkness is often perceived in negative ways, it can actually be our friend: In the darkness of the womb new life comes into being; in the darkness of the earth a new seed can sprout. In the darkness of sleep our bodies find rest and renewal.
Nature shows a different face at night as well: we can see the splendor of the moon and the stars.
Those who must flee for their safety can find protection in the dark. This was true for Mary and Joseph when they had to flee to Egypt to protect their newborn child from the violence of King Herod. In places with very high daytime temperatures, nighttime can provide welcome relief from the heat of the day.
Nighttime is a time when dreams arise and creative ideas unfold. Scientists who struggle with perplexing problems often experience a breakthrough in their sleep. Dmitri Mendeleev dreamed of a table where all the chemical elements fell into place, and thus the periodic table was born. In a similar way August Kekulé saw the structure of Benzene in a dream. Dreams are also one of the ways in which God can speak to us and guide us ways.
Not surprisingly, nighttime has always been a time for prayer. The church has long tradition of praying at the setting of the sun (Vespers) and at the close of the day (Compline): Let my prayer rise up before you as incense; the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
One of my favorite prayers goes like this: Support us, Lord, all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done; then Lord, in your mercy, give us safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last. Amen.
Soon we will approach the longest night of the year, and a few nights after that we will celebrate the holiest night of our liturgical calendar: the night of the birth of Christ. May the wonder of this holy night radiate through all your nights and fill them with a sense of the nearness and loving care of God. May you have a joyous Christmas and may you find peace in work and in rest.
Pastor Bea Chun