When we turn the clocks forward an hour in the spring, many of us feel like a weight has been lifted. An extra hour of light does wonders for our mental health. Our bodies release serotonin, the “happy chemical,” in the brain to improve our moods.
That’s why even when the beautiful colors of fall arrive and we anticipate favorite holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, there’s a certain sadness that many people feel as the year begins to wind down. After Daylight Savings Time ends around early November, each day feels a bit shorter, a bit colder. The hope and warmth of summer fade away, not to be seen again for what feels like an eternity. Though Christmastime is merry and bright, with lights strung up in homes and on city streets and happy celebrations taking place all over, many people begin to dread what’s coming—the heavy, cold darkness to come.
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
It’s appropriate, then, that we save our celebration of Jesus’ birth, the great joy of our lives, for the time of year that is coldest, darkest, and farthest from the light. In fact, this idea mirrors the state of the world before Jesus came to Earth as a human baby. The lyrics of the carol “O Holy Night” capture the weary world’s dilemma at that time well: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.”
It’s appropriate, then, that we save our celebration of Jesus’ birth, the great joy of our lives, for the time of year that is coldest, darkest, and farthest from the light.
The world was truly dark when He came. It yearned for a Savior, for Israel’s Messiah, who would take “away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It had been waiting since the beginning of human history, when man’s first sin came both with punishment and the prophecy that the Seed of the woman would crush the Devil.
The Jewish people in particular must have felt impatient. For close to 2,000 years they had been given special promises as God’s Chosen People, promises of renewal and salvation. They knew they would have a descendant of David rule on the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 7:12–13; Psalm 132:12). They knew they would be regathered as a nation in the Promised Land (Ezekiel 37:21–28). They knew God would put His law in their minds and write it on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).
Yet they were still without a king, scattered among the nations, and far from God’s law. They lived in a time when God commanded His people to sacrifice animals to atone for sin, having not received the blood of the spotless Lamb of God yet.
In the Bleak Midwinter
Just a couple days before Christmas, usually December 21 or 22, we in the Northern Hemisphere reach peak darkness, the winter solstice. Ninety percent of humans live in the Northern Hemisphere, and the number was likely much larger in Jesus’ time.
Long ago, before modern innovations rendered such things an afterthought, the darkness and cold weren’t just inconvenient; they were deadly. They commonly resulted in starvation and hypothermic death. If any time of the year called for a savior, it was late December.
Joy to the World!
How fitting, then, that we celebrate the birth of our Savior at this very time. No, God’s Word doesn’t say anything about celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25. But that doesn’t change the timely power of our celebration of our greatest hope during the time of our greatest darkness.
At the time of year that has been a sad, even scary time through most of human history, facing darkness and death, light now bursts through. Jesus was and is that light, in the Old Testament and New. Isaiah prophesied that He would be “a light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 49:6). Jesus called Himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
After God had been silent for hundreds of years, His angel promised the Savior, God’s only Son, would come and bring hope to Mary, to Israel, and to the whole world—the greatest reason for us to celebrate.
Imagine the hope and joy that must have flooded Mary’s soul when the angel Gabriel told her she would bear the Son of God: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32–33). After God had been silent for hundreds of years, His angel promised the Savior, God’s only Son, would come and bring hope to Mary, to Israel, and to the whole world—the greatest reason for us to celebrate.
Everything changed the moment Jesus came to Earth. “O Holy Night” continues, “’Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth/A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” When Jesus was born, that weariness was dispelled with a jolt of life and replaced by the hope of salvation found in Him. Today we aim to do our part in carrying out the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19–20, making disciples and sharing the light of Christ all over the world.
As we prepare for Christmas, let’s remember to consider the darkness we formerly faced to better appreciate the light we celebrate this time of year. Once lost and far from the Father, we are now free from the darkness of sin because of our great hope: Jesus, the Messiah, our Savior, the light of the world.