Twas the Long, Dark Night Before Christmas // A Devotional for the Fourth Week of Advent, 2016


“Because of the tender mercy of our God,

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven

to shine on those living in darkness

and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

— Luke 1:78-79

Mary and Joseph walked for days and miles from their home in Nazareth to the town of Bethlehem.

They walked for 70-90 miles and for 4-7 days depending on who you ask.

Why?  Well, Luke tells us it was because the Emperor told them to.


One of our favorite traditions is to put our tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving.  It’s a tree that has been in my family for THIRTY YEARS and the ornaments span from the childhoods of my wife’s and mine all the way up to our own children’s ornaments.  All that to say that putting the tree up means something to us.  It’s an event chocked full of tradition and memories and each year we attempt to create an experience worthy of such an occasion!

We break out our Christmas Vinyl (the good stuff, too: Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and one of my more modern favorites, A Very Special Christmas with such icons as Bruce Springsteen, RUN DMC, U2, The Pointer Sisters and Madonna)!  We fire up the stove to warm milk for Swiss Miss’ best hot cocoa.  And our two girls work on a Christmas craft of some kind to hold them over until we can begin decorating the tree.

The only problem is that things never turn out the way we plan them, and this year was no exception!  Some years it’s the lights, others it’s the ornaments broken, and other years, like this one, we get sick while decorating the tree and can’t finish it until a couple of days later!


I wonder if Mary and Joseph thought something similar while traveling toward Bethlehem.

The story doesn’t tell us, but what else is Mary supposed to be thinking as she travels the road from home to the relatively unknown acutely aware of Rome’s power over their household?  What else is she to think while searching for lodging that night?  What else should she think as she lays her newborn baby into a feeding trough?

Mary and Joseph find themselves without power, without place, and in poverty. It’s not exactly a fairytale beginning to the story of the two who will raise the Son of God.

I wonder if during the night of Jesus’ birth Mary and Joseph looked at each other and asked, “Is this what the angle meant by “good news” the day he visited?”


Any chance this is YOUR story, right now?

Could it be that you find yourself, especially this time of year, wondering if this is how your life was supposed to turn out?  Any chance the loss of a loved one, the loss of employment, a recent divorce, or an unwanted diagnosis has left you feeling powerless, out of place, and in poverty?

What many of us miss is that Advent invites us to prepare for a Christmas story that is for everyone, and especially for those who find themselves living through a season of darkness.

Luke tells us while Mary and Joseph are passing glances that night between each other and their newborn baby, there was an unsuspecting group of guys in a field nearby who were about to experience a night-shattering experience.  They were shepherds, minding their own business when an Angel breaks through the night, ushering in God’s glory and an unexpected announcement that seemed too good to be true.

The Messiah has arrived…as a baby…in a feeding trough.


Luke’s version of this story is ripe with revolt.

Even though Caesar has ordered them down to Bethlehem, there is now a Savior, an anointed one, a LORD born in King David’s hometown, and with his birth comes a revolt that will usher in perhaps the most unexpected thing of all – PEACE!

The angel in the story says it this way:

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for ALL people…Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE to those on whom God’s favor rests!”

PEACE to Mary and Joseph. PEACE to the shepherds.  PEACE to Caesar himself if he only knew.  And PEACE to you and me!

Perhaps you’re wondering what kind of peace this is given your situation in life.  That’s a fair question, but there’s a chance you’ve missed out on a central truth about peace.  We often assume that peace is something we experience in the absence of conflict – something that can only come about when all is right.

I believe peace works towards these ends, but its seeds are planted in the broken up ground of our lives and our losses.

Peace is, at least in part, an understanding that God is with us wherever we are, even when we aren’t where we want to be.


At some point that night, there comes a moment when the Shepherds knock on the door or walk through the opening of a cave and into less than ideal surroundings and it all comes together for Mary.

Nothing has changed.  They’re still living beneath the power of Rome, they’re still days and miles away from home, they’re still in a barn, and Jesus is still laying there in a manger – but God’s declaration of PEACE has been delivered to them and now Mary is struck with wonder once more!

Peace doesn’t change the world, but it offers us the opportunity to change how we see the world.

So, if you find yourself living through the difficult nights of this season, may you know that you are living right in the middle of the Christmas story.  May you come to know that your loss, your sorrow, your poverty, may not immediately (or ever) go away, but may you also know that God meets you wherever you are and offers you a word of peace.

The night is almost over.  The dawn is breaking through.  SO, may you come to see the world around you through the eyes of the one who has come to you.

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