Blogmas Day 21: “The Night that Christ Was Born”

I sang this song, “The Night that Christ Was Born,” in college, when I used to be in the gospel choir. This song was written by Kirk Franklin and arranged by Cliff Duren. It’s a classic African-American gospel Christmas song. The lyrics are as follows:

[Verse 1:]
Listen to the angels
Rejoicing e’er so sweetly
Receiving heaven’s glory
The night that Christ was born

[Verse 2:]
Can’t you see the people
Coming from every nation
Pleading for salvation
The night that Christ was born

[Chorus]
Oh such a wonderful savior
To be born in a manger
So that I can share His favor
And my heart be made anew

[Verse 3:]
Listen to the trumpets
Shouting through the darkness
Crying ‘holy, holy’
The night that Christ was born

Part of me worries that this post won’t be as theologically robust as I would like, but there’s only one way to find out. Let’s explore it together!

Luke 2 discusses angels in conjunction with the story of Jesus’s birth:

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” –Luke 2:8-14, NRSV

So, on the night that Christ was born, yes; there were angels. And yes, they were rejoicing.

Next up: the people from every nation “pleading for salvation.”

I know that Revelation 7:9 says that people from every nation will surround the throne of God. I also know that the wise men were the only people from another geographic area who came to see Jesus.

Matthew 2 discusses the visit of the wise men:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalemasking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” –Matt. 2:1-2, NRSV

Two things here: First, this did not take place the same night of Jesus’s birth. The wise men arrived to Jerusalem after Jesus had already been born. Second, these wise men came from the East, likely Persia. While this location may be a microcosm used to represent a greater whole, i.e. Persia being used as a symbol for other nations, we really can’t assume that is the case.

Was anyone pleading for salvation? Not literally. But Luke does tell us that when the apostle John was born, the prophet Zechariah saw that he would “be called a prophet of the Most High…go[ing] before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77, NRSV). In the next chapter, a man named Simeon says, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation; which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32, NRSV).

I believe that the prophets were pleading for salvation, because they knew it was coming. They knew Jesus was coming because Isaiah and the other prophets had written that there would be a Messiah coming to save Israel spiritually and literally/historically. But I don’t believe the average person even knew they needed salvation, let alone was pleading for it.

I wrote about Christ (Jesus) being born in a manger before, and the significance of His humanity for our salvation, so I’ll skip the chorus.

But the last verse refers to trumpets. I see no evidence of a relationship between trumpets and the birth of Jesus. The trumpets are “shouting through the darkness; crying ‘Holy, Holy'”. That language sounds more apocalyptic to me. In fact, all of the scriptures that connect trumpets with holiness or a proclamation of holiness in some way are in the Old Testament:

  1. Holy convocations and high holy days (Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1): A trumpet is sounded and a day of rest is declared.
  2. The “day of the Lord” and the relationship between God’s holiness and Mt. Zion, God’s “HQ,” so to speak: Isaiah 27:13 and Joel 2:1.

(It’s extra funny–in a “Wow” sort of way– when we think of the images of angels blowing trumpets that are so present in the Christmas aesthetic. Unless I’m mixing this up with somewhere else, I’m pretty sure such angels are outside Rockefeller Center).

I think it’s nice to imagine that angels with great big trumpets let out a great fanfare up in heaven when Jesus was born.

 

 

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