Noche Buena (Good Night) is what we call Christmas Eve in Spanish speaking countries. It's more than a translation but a different way to look at this special "eve" in the Christian calendar. In many countries Noche Buena is the most important night of the Christmas season. It might even be more important than Christmas morning. Families gather, food is shared, then the family heads to church to celebrate Christ's birth.
This year I am reminded that for many who gather on Christmas Eve it's not such a good night. Memories of painful Christmas past are at the forefront, a loved one or a job has been lost, health has been hard to come by, loneliness has become the norm. Added to all of this is the anxiety of a difficult economic climate. There will be many who will come wondering, what kind of good news they could be given during such a time as this?
It was not such a great night for Mary and Joseph either! They were tired, Mary was pregnant, and they could not find a comfortable place to sleep. In the end they settled on a stable: stinky, dirty, noisy, uncomfortable. That's all they could find.
The shepherds were not having a good night either. They were sleeping in the cold fields, no place to call their own. Despised by most as nothing but riff-raff, they made the best out of their circumstances and continued watching their flocks, continued doing their jobs.
So what's the good news of this night? The angels tell us: "to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:11) This messiah, this Lord, is not in the halls of power, in the mansions of the well to do, instead he is "wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." Salvation comes in the most humble of ways and those who are first told are the ones who needed most.
The God that we serve knows our bad nights, that something is wrong in the world, that something needs to be done in order to restore us to what God intended. So this God chooses the stench of homelessness, the messiness of exile, the anonymity of illegitimacy. God chooses it for us, because of who God is, God chooses to come into our world to show us that we are God's own.
I realize all these years later how "buena" this night really is! It is not perfect, nor free from the stuff of life. In fact it is as real as real can be. This is what makes it good, this is what the world had been waiting for, from the beginning!
We now join the sheperds, "glorifying and praising God for all [we have] heard and seen, as it [has] been told [us]" We do not ignore our own troubles or try to make light of them, neither do we do that with the trouble of others. Instead we proclaim a God who knows our troubles and chooses to break into history as one of us so that we know that all of God's creation can be sanctified, made holy, re-claimed for God's purposes.
This is a "Noche Buena" indeed!