Upon the Midnight Clear
O. P. Kretzmann

The old story — the Child, the Mother, the shepherds, the stars, the angels. Once more I remember them as one remembers a forgotten thing or a song whose words have become faint: the hills which had stood ready in silent obedience from the moment of their creation, the manger which was to become the haunt of the worlds devotion, the inn at the end of the road for tired minds and weary hearts, the cry of the Child. What, after all, is Christmas? What came into the world on Christmas night?

Perhaps the first sound that reached the ears of the Child in the manger was the song of the choirs over the hills of Bethlehem: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will. A prayer, this, and a prophecy — a prayer that the hands of the Child, so soon to be torn by nails, would take hold of the hearts of men, and a prophecy that those who would bring their hearts to Him would have peace. Tonight, as the eyes of Christendom turn toward the manger, that prayer has become more anxious and immediate. It is still possible for men to have peace through Him who ended the war between God and man. The world may have lost peace, but God has not lost it. It has come back into the world over the strange road of the manger. So it was peace that came into the world that first Christmas night.

With the Child, complete and perfect holiness came into the world of men for the first and only time. God did not become man to make us content with the world; He came to make us discontent with the world which now is. He came to give us the final revelation of the world to come. He came to talk about a pearl of great price, a wedding garment of incomparable beauty, a fair and real hope on our black horizon. Listen for a moment as the Child become man prays on the night before His death: And for their sakes I sanctify my self, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou didst send me. And the glory which Thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that Thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as Thou lovedst me. Note the constant repetition of that word one. We have been made one with God through faith in the redeeming work of Him who lay in the manger, who came to bring us into the sunlight of His holiness, to make us His family, and to take us to live in the eternal Bethlehem. So it was holiness that came into the world that first Christmas night.

When the Child came into the world, it was among the dumb beasts that He was born. As the world turns now toward the worship of power I must remember that the first worshippers of the Incarnate Word were not the great and mighty, not the rich and noble. Oxen and sheep were His company and the shepherds His congregation. No power He had, no sword, no bombs, no guns, no books, no money. The mysterious lowliness of God! I remember a story which Heywood Broun told in his last column before his death. It was about the Wise Man who halted and delayed the richly laden caravan winding its way out of the East on its journey in search of Him who had been born King of the Jews. He came hurrying back to his impatient companions holding in his hand a long-kept, paint-scarred, tin, tumbling, tiny toy. But we have gifts fit for a King! his companions protested. You have gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the King,” answered the Third Wise Man. This is for the Child at Bethlehem. It was the divine lowliness that came into the world that first Christmas night.

Lowliness, yes — but also Power! The first infant cry of the Child was the battle challenge of the Prince of Peace. A few years later four men wrote the story of the hundred days about which God decided to tell us something. They are the most memorable days in the history of man and their remembrance remains the most precious possession of the human heart. More than 717,000 days have passed since the first Christmas — but not one on which somebody would not have died for Him! This is the ultimate power in the universe. Hunted from the cradle to the grave, stoned and tempted, rejected by His people, betrayed by His disciples, scourged and mocked and spat upon and crucified, He stands today before the heart of the world as its last hope, its only Savior, and its everlasting King. The hundred days of His recorded life came and went quickly, but the endless days of His resurrected life give meaning and hope to time and to eternity. This is the power that came into the world that first Christmas night.

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