Advent: ‘The bird of dawning singeth all night long’

One of our standout family memories is camping in the dog days of summer. Each year we would hitch up our hardtop camper and head off into the deep woods for a fabulous Bennett getaway. No urban sounds, no TV, no radio, no school, no work — just carefree together time with the trees, the critters, the lakes, the sunshine and the campfires with s’mores.

These many years later, our family regularly reflects about those halcyon times and with the memory comes the inevitable sigh of peaceful bliss.

I recall one particular wilderness adventure when the girls were rather young. To keep our rambunctious kids content as they prepared for bed, we gave each of them a disposable flashlight (sorry, EnviroAction). It was a particularly dark evening with a strong wind stirring up the trees in an eerie sort of way.

All went well until the middle of the night when our youngest suddenly awoke to discover her flashlight dead (surprise!) and the interior of the camper engulfed in total darkness.

She panicked, of course, and cried out: “Mum, I can’t see!” Actually, we couldn’t see either.

I advised my little one to unzip the window by her head and look up. As she peered out, she could see the stars of creation dancing in the clear northern sky. All was as it should be. Starlight had turned a deep darkness into a beautiful Earth. Nevertheless, our youngest still tucked in next to her parents for extra comfort!

That deep woods experience years ago evokes an image of the Advent season that is now upon us. At Christmas, starlight has indeed turned a deep darkness into a beautiful Earth.

Christina Rossetti said it this way:

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine;

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and angels gave the sign.

The Scriptures of the season also announced the bursting forth of God’s love in Christ.

Zachariah’s prophecy at the birth of his son John predicts that “by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78-9).

In the Temple, old Simeon sees the child Jesus and gives praise to God, proclaiming that Jesus is a “light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32a).

The gospeller John reminds us that the “light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”(John 1:5).

And, of course, in Matthew’s Gospel, the starlight leads the magi through the deep darkness to the worship of the Christ.

This Advent, once again invite God’s light to shine in your darkness (however that might look) and so lead you to the worship of Jesus, the one we call Christ.

So very many years ago, wise old William Shakespeare got it just right:

Some say that ever ’gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,

The bird of dawning singeth all night long: . . .

The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm;

So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

(Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1)

May you have a blessed and hallowed Christmas.

Bishop Bob Bennet