In the Dark Night

В темную нічку (Спи, Ісусе)

As the three Wise Men from the East laid their presents at the feet of the Infant Jesus, his blessed Mother watched and wondered.  They gave him gold, signifying that her tiny Son was a King.  They gave him frankincense, reserved for the worship of the One True God.  Finally, and most ominously, they gave him myrrh, used for the anointing of the dead as a preparation for burial.  The name of today’s feast is Epiphany, which means a manifestation.  On this day it became manifest to the world that the Little Child of Bethlehem was a King, and not only a king but the Lord God Almighty, and was at the same time a mortal man whose fate, like that of the rest of us, was to die.  What the world would think of this, I’ll leave to history to unfold the consequences of this manifestation.  But what the Child’s blessed Mother thought of all this, we humbly contemplate and stand in awe.

In the mountains of Ukraine and Transcarpathia, there is a legend that is sung by the monks about what happened after the three Kings left the stable in Bethlehem, and Mary was left to put the Christ Child to sleep in the restored silence of the manger.  The carol sung by the old monks describes first the birth of Jesus, “В темную нічку—In the dark night, above Bethlehem, a bright star shined out, covering the Holy Land.  The Most Pure Virgin, the Holy Bride, in a poor cave gave birth to a Son.”  It goes on to describe the Mother of God singing a lullaby to her baby, singing to him about his fate.  “Спи, Ісусе—Sleep, my Jesus, sleep my sweet little baby, Sleep my little star, I will sing to you, my sweet one, about your fate.”

She sings to him that he will grow up and go out into the world, that he will bring the Love of the Lord, and God’s truth, faith to the world, to his people.  She sings to him that his truth will live on and that the shackles of sin will be shattered.  But she is his Mother.  She knows the price he must pay so that people across the entire world will believe in him.  She knows he will save the world from death.  But she knows more, and the words of her lullaby reveal the internal anguish of her heart as she sings, “on Golgotha, my little child will die.”

It is impossible to listen to and understand these words without being moved to deep emotion.  None of us can ever truly comprehend the sentiments of the Mother of God that night.  She is the highest being ever created.  She gave birth to God in the flesh without corruption, she held within her womb, by his own consent) him who was the Creator of the universe and her own personal Creator, whom the heavens themselves could not contain.  Before becoming her Son, he was the Immortal Word of God.  Even now, he remained that same Immortal Word, but how was she able to come to terms with the idea that this Immortal Word, he who was in the beginning with God and without whom was made nothing that was made, was now an infant, physically the same as other babies, immortal and yet mortal?  And this Immortal Word was her baby.

Now, in her lullaby, she sings to her baby and her Creator about what he already perfectly understands, that He will grow up, that he will teach the truth to the world He created, that his own creatures, his children, will then murder him, and that he will rise from the dead—not to punish them, but still to save them.  Of course, his victory is inevitable, and yet, what incomprehensible emotions this must bring on a girl who most likely was not much older than eighteen, but who was already more honorable than the many-eyed cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the six-winged seraphim.

To give birth to your own God, and then sing to him about his inevitable death, and glorious resurrection… No mother wants to outlive her son, but it’s an entirely separate strange and awesome thing to understand that not only will your son die, but he will also save the human race and rise from the dead.

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  We offer these gifts in the ways we have found to reshape them, the gold of our offerings to God and his holy temple, the frankincense of our prayers and devotions, and the myrrh of our sufferings here on earth.  We offer them all to our Infant King of kings and Lord of lords.  But it is this Infant’s holy Mother who will take these gifts on his behalf, keeping them safe until such time as they may best be used.  She will store up for his eventual use our precious treasures, our gifts and prayers, our joys and our sorrows, keeping these things in her heart, always ready to pass them on to her beloved Son to whom we now sing, В темную нічку, in the dark night of this vale of tears.

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