When all in solemn stillness lay and night was in the
midst of her swift course
From your royal throne O God
Leapt your eternal word.
Some evocative words; originally from the Vespers and
Lauds antiphon for the 4th Sunday in Advent, reappearing
as the Antiphon in the Mass in the saints within the
octave of Christmas, they now form a daily punctuation to
the season, as the Magnificat antiphon throughout
I think they have a particular resonance tonight. I am
not, these days, usually awake at this time. I am usually
tucked up at about 10.30. But tonight is different. The
rhythms of the ordinary stop for a time, and the world
holds its collective breath.
Mid night and midwinter. There is something charged about
the time, and the time of the year, the year at its
Night in the midst of her swift course. Night – not
passive or empty, not simply for sleep, but full of
Into the midst of a troubled world, a child is born. A
child born to refugee parents, in an obscure but
strategically important corner of a vast and powerful
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? For this year, we've seen
swathes upon swathes of humanity forced to flee homes and
livelihoods for the pointless wars of pointless empires.
We've seen, and been shocked by the vulnerable flesh of a
child washed up on a beach.
And somehow this year we've circled back to another night
when time stood still and enemies embraced one another to
sing Silent Night in the eerie stillness of no man’s land
a century ago.
Time this night stands still and also rushes by – as other
nights in other times with other faces and other voices
are somehow present all at once, those with whom we've
shared Christmases long gone, but are strangely here and
watching with us.
For this night, heaven touches earth and God is made man.
God speaks no longer in the future perfect – the prophet’s
tense – but in the present. And what a present! A present
rich with the intertwining of history and possibility. For
this night, the Word is made flesh, in the manger, on the
cross and in the broken bread and wine outpoured of the
For this night, God speaks again – his promise moulded on
the tiny frame of a child: God’s odd hope, strange
justice, peculiar power, lying here, vulnerable amid the
It is easy, in the midst of things, to feel overwhelmed.
To feel powerless in the face of so much that is beyond us
and puzzling and difficult.
Yet God’s word continues insistently to speak in flesh,
our flesh, and particularly its most vulnerable and
And that is why this night, in the midst of things, all is
still; that we might discern God’s quiet, insistent
purpose among it all; not in majesty and power, not in
glory and splendour: heaven touches earth, God is made man
in all our weakness; and in that strength made perfect in
weakness, we behold his glory, as of the Father’s only
Son, full of grace and truth.