Kirby column: Come Christmas Eve
The night before Christmas is a busy time for most of us. There are gifts to be wrapped, food to be cooked and luggage to pack. And even if all of these things have been done, it is dark outside. Traveling at night always takes more effort than traveling during the day.
In spite of the inconveniences of having a worship service Christmas Eve, it is appropriate. After all, it was at night that the angel first announced the birth of the Christ child to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in a field. Upon hearing that announcement, those shepherds left their sheep and traveled though the night in search of a child lying in a manger. The timing was not at all convenient. It was dark. Going to Bethlehem was not easy. It meant putting their livestock and their livelihood at risk. But the shepherds went anyway. They were compelled to go by their hope of finding something more significant than their sheep.
Coming out of our warm homes into the cold, dark night is not convenient for us, either. But we come out because of a baby who was born in the darkness of a stable and who slept amidst the sweet smell of hay and the stench of manure. We come through the darkness because of our God who came from heaven to live among us in a cold, dark world.
When I was a junior in high school, I was a student government officer. About halfway through the school year my fellow officers and I wanted to express our appreciation to the teacher who was our advisor. We invited her out to dinner. At that time there were no fancy restaurants in Staunton, Va., where we lived, so we took her to Charlottesville. And that meant driving over Afton Mountain. The trip there was uneventful. But the trip back was something I shall never forget. A thick fog had covered Afton Mountain. And those new lights along Interstate 81 that were supposed to come on at night were not working.
Never before or since then have I known the visibility on any road to be as bad as it was that night. The fog was so thick that we could not see a thing in front of the car, not even an inch of the white lines that marked the lanes of the road. The high school senior who was driving had to hold the door by the driverís seat open so that the light from inside the car could shine on the white line of the asphalt. And thatís how we crossed Afton Mountain on a cold, dark, foggy nightóthree teenagers and a schoolteacher, creeping along at about 10 miles an hour, the driver having his right hand on the steering wheel and the other on the handle of the open door, staring down at the road beside him instead of looking at what lay ahead.
There are times when the whole world seems like Afton Mountain. There are times when the world is dark and so foggy that we cannot see what lies ahead. But into this dark and frightening world, God came. The angel of God came into the darkness of a shepherdís field, and the night sky burst with the glory of the Lord. Into the darkness of a stable and the darkness of the world, a baby was born. And that baby was a light that shines in the darkness of the world and in the darkness of our own souls. His light shines on us to guide us like the light inside the car shines on the white line of the asphalt on a foggy, dark night.
On a dark cold night, God came. And so, in spite of the dark, in spite of the cold, come Christmas Eve, we come to God. We come hoping to meet the Christ once again.
The Rev. Dr. Barrie Miller Kirby is pastor of Spencer Presbyterian Church.