Christmas: The First Divine service

Except for the occasional semi rumbling along the interstate, the night is remarkably quiet. The people are slowly gathering. This is a night we have longed for. For weeks now, Advent has been the focus: the certainty of our Lord’s glorious appearing, the strong warning of our Lord to watch and wait for that day, the uncompromising call of St. John the Baptist for repentance in our lives, crying out for our Emmanuel.

Advent has its own beautiful songs and themes, and we need Advent in our lives, but tonight, it has ended with the setting of the sun. That was hours ago. We are heading toward midnight, and instead of being in their beds asleep, little ones and old ones and everyone in between have come out into the cold and dark night to celebrate a Light that no coldness and no darkness will ever overcome. It is Christmas Eve, and the first Divine Service for the Nativity of our Lord is about to begin.

Why have Christians gathered for so many centuries at midnight for this celebration? The answer might surprise you. Tucked away in one of the Apocryphal books, The Wisdom of Solomon, we read:

For while all things were in quiet silence,
and that night was in the midst
of her swift course,
Thine Almighty Word leaped down from
heaven out of Thy royal throne,
as a fierce man of war into the
midst of a land of destruction.

The context is the angel of death coming to Egypt to destroy the firstborn, but the Church long ago heard something else in this passage: a description of the birth of our Lord, who is the Almighty Word, and who descended from the royal throne—Mary’s body, she being David’s offspring—in order to war against the enemies of God’s people: sin, death, and the devil.

Combined with St. Luke’s words about the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, the notion became fixed that it was at midnight that the Virgin gave birth to the world’s Savior. The verse from Wisdom even serves as the antiphon for the Introit on this evening in the Lutheran Service Book, and the idea has remained fixed in popular piety by our hymns: “To show God’s love aright, / She bore to us a Savior, / When half-spent was the night” (LSB 359:2) and “It came upon a midnight clear” (LSB 366).

And so, century upon century after the birth of our Lord, Christians have kept vigil in the middle of the night, gathered together for prayer, praise, preaching, and receiving of Holy Communion to celebrate the birth in the flesh of the only-begotten Son of the Father. (Source: The Lutheran Witness)

Very moving.  Be sure to go to the source and read the whole article on the celebration vigil that takes place tonight.

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