(I am pleased to have a guest, Rev. Jack Doorlag, share these thoughts with us as we enter into the Christian season of Advent.)
Most Christians I know believe that Jesus was born into this world sometime during the night. I, too, would like to think the same way, for this would be quite consistent with what we are told in other places in the scriptures about the character of God. It seems to be a constant pattern that in life’s darkest moments, God sooner or later has a way of showing up in ways we could never anticipate or expect.
Remember the story of Jacob as he was running for his life from his brother Esau? We are told that during the night, as he was sleeping at a place he later named Bethel, he had a dream of angels going up and down a ladder from earth to heaven. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” he said when he woke up from his dream, “this is none other than the house of God!”
Or, remember the story that took place years later when the people of Israel were led out of captivity from the land of Egypt? It seems from what we read in the story that they left at some point during the night. Then, as they wandered through the wilderness, God revealed Himself to them in the form of a pillar of fire during the night hours. Or, what about the story the Hebrews shared with their children and grandchildren about what transpired at the Red Sea? During the night hours, they said, God sent a mighty wind that made a path through the Red Sea so that they could pass through on dry land. As they continued their journey through the wilderness food became a major issue, so God gave them manna each and every day except on the weekends when he gave enough for a couple of days. So, when did God send the manna? From what we read in the story as told by the ancient Hebrew people, again it was sometime during the night.
One of my favorite Bible stories I learned in Sunday School was about a young boy by the name of Samuel who was brought by his mother to serve God in the tabernacle. As we read the story, we discover that God somehow shows up (we are not told exactly how) and shares a message with Samuel during the night. Another favorite Bible story that I learned in Sunday School was when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. Do you recall what time of the day we are told that God came to his rescue and shut the mouths of the lions? Again, it was during the night.
After the birth of Jesus, God chose to announce His birth to the shepherds tending their sheep outside of Bethlehem. So, when did the angels appear to the shepherds with their song? From what the gospel writer Luke tells us, it was during the night. And it was by a special star in the nighttime sky that God also led a group of wise men to Bethlehem several days, maybe years, later. Other stories in the Gospels continue the same theme. Do you remember when Nicodemus encountered Jesus during a pivotal moment in his life? Or, can we recall when it was that Jesus came to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee as they encountered a fierce storm? Again, it was during the night.
From the Gospels we move into the story of how the church was born and then expanded throughout the Roman Empire. Even within this story as it is given to us in the scriptures, God continued to reveal himself as One who comes to his people during the night. There’s the story of Simon Peter being imprisoned by King Herod. According to what Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, when did the angel of the Lord appear to Peter and set him free from his chains? It was during the night. And, when was it that God appeared to the Apostle Paul to reassure him that his life would be spared even though the ship on which he was sailing would be destroyed? That’s right — it was during the night.
Several other stories in the Bible seem to highlight the same common denominator. God has a way of showing up when life feels as though we are living in the darkness of night. Maybe other stories are coming to your minds at this very moment. Whether we consider each of these stories to be historical or metaphorical, the whole idea of “night” in the Bible seems to carry with it pictures of despondency, hopelessness, despair, entrapment, discouragement, and difficulty.
Isn’t is reassuring, then, to see how consistent the message is in all of the stories that are given to us in the scriptures? God somehow has a way of showing up for us just when we need His presence the most — during the “nighttimes” of our lives. It may not be at the time we feel we most need His presence. Consider, for example, several of the Psalms during which the psalmist wonders why God has abandoned him or doesn’t respond to his cries for help. But, as the psalmist himself discovered, God will be faithful to his own. God will show up during life’s most difficult and hopeless times. Why God shows up sooner in some difficult situations in life but later in other situations will remain, I suspect, a mystery to the end of history.
There seems to be a consistent theme in the scriptures that God does and will come during those dark and nighttime experiences of life. This is what gives us reason, especially during this Christmas season of the year, to feel the joy of Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and the wise men. This is good news not only for us, but for our nation and all the nations of the world! Believe this good news and be filled with hope that even though life may never be the same as it once was for us, it can and will get better all because God sooner or later will show up in the night!