Is there a day of greater expectation for Christians than Christmas Eve? Holy Saturday, perhaps, should be; but while the Resurrection of Christ is a more remarkable act even than the Incarnation of God as Man, the simple fact that the former depends on the latter - God must become Man before He can die and rise again - has ensured that Christmas captures our imagination more fully than Easter. It is not just visions of sugar plums and glorious roast beast that set our hearts afire on this day; it is the recognition - perhaps less conscious than more so - that, in the words of one of my favorite Christmas carols,
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,Even as Christians, we may have reduced the Nativity of Our Lord in practical terms to a holiday of family and friends, of home and hearth and happiness. Yet our souls know more than our minds acknowledge, and on this night of nights they cry out, "Come, Lord Jesus!" That is the cry, too, of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church, of saints and sinners down through the ages...
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
It is the cry of humanity broken by sin, of men and women who too often rebel against the realization that we cannot repair our lives, much less the world, on our own, yet who recognize, deep within their souls, the scars that only Christ can heal. Our pride threatens to stifle that cry, and perhaps for 364 days of the year, it succeeds in doing so. We act as if our salvation lies in our hands, as if we can heal ourselves through our own works.
Yet on this day, and even more so this night, our souls may speak more loudly, if we will let them. They may cry to the Lord Who will greet us in the morning from His humble manger; they may admit that we need the Child Who is also the Man Who died for our sins - not just the sins of Adam and Eve, and the sins of our fellow man, but our sins, that we have committed yesterday and today, and which we will commit tomorrow.
And our souls may allow us, this night, to set aside our spiritual and intellectual pride, and to hear the truth of the prophets, who likened those souls to an arid desert, which no man can make bloom but God can make fruitful.
To receive the gift of God, the gift that He gives us starting this night, requires setting our pride aside and acknowledging that we are broken, that we are barren, that on our own we can only bring death rather than life.
This night, of all nights, our hearts seem ready to hear these words, to admit the longing in our souls for something that we cannot gain for ourselves, but can only accept as a gift. Or rather, the longing for Someone, the only begotten Son of the Father Who wants nothing more than for all of His children to receive the ultimate gift in the spirit in which He gives it: freely, without reservations.
Tomorrow, He comes: the greatest gift of all. Tonight, we watch, we wait, we hope...Also read: Why Christmas Is Celebrated at Night