‘Cause Tonight the World Begins Again.

Christmas Eve.

There’s a song that reminds me of this night, no matter what time of year. It’s not your typical Christmas song. You probably won’t hear it on your local soft-rock-turned-Christmas-since-Thanksgiving-Station that’s already played Feliz Navidad 50,000 times. I doubt you’ll sing it in Church, either.

It’s called “Better Days” by the Goo Goo Dolls. I’m not sure what lead singer Johnny Reznik intended for this song, but I can’t hear this song without thinking about the hope of Christmas.

I picture Christmas Eve like looking out the window at midnight after an evening of appreciable snowfall. The roads are unplowed, smooth snow glistening like sugar cookies, fresh in the street, untainted. The media isn’t yet in a frenzy over which facility is closed and which will get a two hour delay. A hushed silence blankets the world, if but for the night, drawing you in closer to the person next to you. There is peace and wonder and beauty, but it doesn’t scream, nor demand your attention. Heaven knows we don’t need more screaming, more arguing. Instead, its peacefulness is what garners our attention and draws us nigh. This is a bit of what Christmas Eve feels like to me- a baby, born in privation, surrounded by the love of God, except this baby isn’t screaming. This baby is sleeping peacefully in Mary’s arms. There is a beckoning to this Jesus that doesn’t yell, but quietly, calmly pulls my soul in deep, especially on a night like tonight. 

This night is always my favorite out of the year. A sense of anticipation churns in my heart as I look up at the stars convinced that hope is always out there for the searching, that life is inherently good, that there is a love out there trying to find ways into every person’s heart.
For the past twenty-some years, I’ve felt a taste of this beauty, this hope, at Church, singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. I remember the peace and stillness in my mother’s voice as she sang. Sometimes I would lower my voice, or stop singing altogether just to hear her sing. She rarely sings, but this night is an exception.

This year, I barely went to Church, as in a place you go to on Sunday mornings. But I’ve experienced Church that much more strongly out here in the wide open spaces. I liken it to how some animals have a poor sense of eyesight, but sharp olfactory acuity. I may not get “fed” through sermons and communion and prayer anymore, but my sense of God in the everyday is clued in more strongly than ever before, and I find God gathered around a fire with friends, in 5 AM foggy sunrises, in sunsets over the mountains, in conversations about reconciliation and peace amongst nations, and in the most boring, trivial parts of life.
So I may be joining the crowd of “C and E” (Christmas and Easter) Christians tonight, but there’s no place I’d rather be. I know I’m not the only one. All sorts of people can find their way to Church on this night. Some who haven’t set foot in a Church in 10 years, only to discover that tonight, there really is plenty of room at the inn for all of us.

We discover, tonight, that in the midst of all the gifts, packages tied up in strings, something isn’t satisfying, and we realize that the greatest gifts that we’ve been given, like the song points out, are faith and trust and peace while we’re alive. We realize that we’re in this together, not focused on ourselves or egotistic societal mores, if but for one night. We’re focused on something bigger, on something we can’t explain, on something we can’t quite put our fingers on, on an event that we weren’t even around for all those thousands of years ago, but still choose to celebrate, year after year after year.

•••

It’s not coincidental to me that Christmas Eve falls one week before New Year’s Eve, and somewhere, at some moment in time tonight, you might find yourself placidly at a pew or lying in bed by candlelight, or perhaps driving home from a Christmas party or wrapping that last gift, turned inward, pensive, musing about the year as it slowly dwindles into its final seven days. And maybe your heart will fill with regret, or even bitterness. Maybe you didn’t treat people around you the way you wish you would have this year. Maybe you’ve had more joys this year than you could have ever foreseen, and on this night, your heart is so full, it just might burst with gratitude. Some of us will have lost someone, or something, this year, perhaps unexpectedly, that meant so much to us. And so our hearts are hurting as we experience our first Christmas without them. And as tears of joy and abundance, or tears of pain and hurt—or perhaps an amalgamation of both—warm your cheeks tonight, may you feel a presence come over you. Dare to believe it is God, softly whispering in your ear, “tonight’s the night we begin again.” All of our unmet hopes, all of our grievances, all of our confusion, all of our gratitude, our story, commingled with God’s story- the hope that on this night, like so many thousands of years ago, the world begins again. A hope rekindles. A baby gets born who will one day encourage the whole wide world to know how much they are loved, forgiven, freed. Whose words will affirm the pushed aside and the misunderstood. Who will flip things upsidedown, claiming that the last shall be first, the first shall be last. Ah, yes, that subversive guy. But wait. He’s just a baby tonight. Not a word has come out of his mouth yet, and his life, the story, is just starting, or re-starting. Ah yes, tonight’s the night the world begins again.

May we come to realize we are loved tonight. All of us, everyone of us, united together, seen with eyes of love. And not with a trite “Jesus loves you” kind of love, but a deep, pursuant, persistent love that never shouts nor excessively coddles, but is after you constantly, desperate for you to know how much- just how much you are loved, dear Child of God.

May we realize that together we “will do even greater things…”

May we each realize that Church doesn’t have to be a place you go to, but a peace you feel when you look up at the stars and can’t explain anything coherent at the moment, taken over by awe, knowing that in the midst of all this chaos is order and solace and constancy and bigness and smallness.
And if Church is a place you go to, should you ever feel dismissed, remember, God’s heart never closes. You are welcome here; there is always room in the inn of God’s heart. 

May we remember that everyone is forgiven. That this night is characterized by the innocence of a Child in a Manger. We are forgiven by a God who longs to lift us up out of shame; a God who will bend down on one knee, lift your chin up for you when your crestfallen glance won’t leave the ground, look you in the eye and say, “Look into my eyes, Child. I love you. You are forgiven. Whatever ‘dirty secret’ you hide, whatever you are so afraid of the world knowing about you, whatever holds you down, traps, and ensnares you… Whatever tries to convince you that you can’t change or that it’s too late or that you’re too far behind… Whatever prevents you from experiencing the allelujah… let it go tonight.”

Because God has promised us better days.

For tonight’s the night the world begins again.

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
‘Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And desire and love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
So take these words
And sing out loud
‘Cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again
And it’s someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And that’s faith and trust and peace while we’re alive
And the one poor child that saved this world
And there’s 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them
So take these words
And sing out loud
‘Cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again
I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
So take these words
And sing out loud
‘Cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

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4 thoughts on “‘Cause Tonight the World Begins Again.

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