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O Holy Night

Reflection on Lk. 2:4-20


One by one the lights go out. Silence and stillness settle over Bethlehem. It is a clear night, but only the few shepherds on the hillsides are awake to admire the sparkling heavens. One shepherd looks up at a new star—incredibly bright. He glances around at his sheep. Nothing is prowling among them, so he returns his gaze to the sky.


Presumably there are some shepherds “off duty,” or perhaps some have brought their sheep into a safe fold. Usually the night watch is undesirable, but this night the shepherds keeping watch will reap an unlooked-for grace. Surely these rough-and-tumble men never thought they would be the recipients of an angelic visitation.


Meanwhile, the couple taking shelter in the cave prepare for the birth of the Messiah—God in the flesh, the Savior, Emmanuel.


Back in the fields, the sky erupts in a light that effaces even the brightest star.


“Do not be afraid,” says the angel, “for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord…”


After the angelic announcement and the heavenly hosts’ praise of God, I imagine there are some moments of silence as the shepherds, stunned and amazed, recover their senses. Then it hits them: The Messiah is here! Now! Close at hand! Then, let’s go!


How do they know where to go? I suppose they go first to the caves, as they have to find a manger, and one that is not enclosed behind the walls of a house. The light emanating from one of these shelter-stables draws them—could it be that the flickering fire-glow is mingled with a heavenly radiance?


They enter, prostrate themselves before the Babe, and then spill forth their story. Mary and Joseph take this all in. A wondrous and joyful amazement permeates the scene.


And yet, how quiet it all is! In a humble stable outside of a small town, in a small country, in a corner of our world, in the middle of the night, God comes.


As the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” says: How silently, how silently the wondrous grace is given…


* * *

That Jesus entered our world, taking on human flesh, being born of a Virgin, coming to save us, in such a humble way ought to give us confidence. Yes, Emmanuel, God-with-us is accessible to us.


Tonight, tomorrow, we like Mary, Joseph and the shepherds will draw close to the manger, kneel in adoration before this Little One Who is God. This Christmas, Jesus has unique and new graces for each one of us—let us, then, receive them, receive Him, with open hearts. Because He comes so often in quiet and stillness, let us make sure to take some time to pray in silence, to be with Him this Christmas.

How silently, how silently the wondrous grace is given.

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,

where meek souls will receive Him still,

the dear Christ enters in.


Sr. Cecilia Francis, CFR

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