A Word to Christmas 2020
“The Solemn Hour”
Bishop John Roth
A sermon by pastor/theologian Fleming Rutledge brought to mind Christmases in my experience. When I was a child, our church had three services on Christmas Eve: a 4 o’clock Sunday School service, a 7 o’clock service, and “the midnight service” that began at 11 o’clock; it was midnight when the light of the individual candles would be overwhelmed by the room-filling nave lights coming on, and the mood would enliven with vigorous singing of “Joy to the World”. The midnight service was the most revered of the three. All of us knew that when we were old enough, we would get to go to the midnight service, but not before then. Getting to go to the midnight service was a rite of passage, special, both joyful and serious, the domain of grown-ups. At the midnight service, “What did Santa bring you?” completely gives way to “O come let us adore him.”
I bring this up, not to be nostalgic, but as the prelude to an insight on the first line of “O Holy Night” that I owe to Rutledge. We know the line as, “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining.” In the original French, it is “Minuit, Chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle”, which means, “Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour.”
The solemn hour. Grown-ups know the birth of the Savior is the solemn hour.
If you are reading this, you are past the point of looking forward to being a grown-up. We are the grown-ups – whether we like it or not. We are old enough to know laughter, accomplishment, satisfaction, and a level of comfort; but then, we knew those things also as children. However, we know now, in the way that grown-ups know, struggles, disappointments, unfulfilled hopes, anxieties, and fears. The pandemic has compounded struggles, disappointments, anxieties, and fears. The strain is palpable in the sea of fatigue and divisiveness we swim in.
Christmas is the good news that God comes into the messy and messed-up world that grown-ups know. God acts, God intervenes, God fulfills God’s purposes. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is not a moment to be taken lightly. Good Christmas worship will be joyfully serious or seriously joyful in ways this year much different than previous years. But you will be blessed as you return again to the gift of the incarnation of our Lord.
“Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,” the carol begins. The carol ends with this:
C’est pour nous tous qu’il naît, qu’il souffre et meurt. Peuple, debout! Chante ta délivrance. Noël! Noël! Chantons le Rédempteur! Noël! Noël! Chantons le Rédempteur!
It is for us all that he was born, that he suffered and died. People, stand up; sing your deliverance! Christmas! Christmas! Sing the Redeemer! Christmas! Christmas! Sing the Redeemer!
God’s Holy Spirit bless you with the rich grace of the birth of the Christ child. We are the grown-ups now. In the solemn hour, sing the Redeemer!