As a relatively new Catholic, I am still being introduced to those “other” books that my Bible now includes. It is my custom to read the daily Mass scriptures and prayers, and on November 16, I discovered a real treasure:
When peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, Your all-powerful word, from heaven’s royal throne bounded, a fierce warrior, into the doomed land, bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree. And as he alighted, he filled every place with death; he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth…For all creation, in its several kinds, was being made over anew… ~ Wisdom 18:14-16, 19:6a
The passage goes on to talk of the last plague on Egypt and the Exodus of God’s people from that land of slavery. The fierce warrior was the destroyer, come to kill both man and beast. But one phrase caught my attention above all else. Can you guess what it was?
…and the night in its swift course was half spent… Sound familiar?
Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse’s lineage coming as men of old have sung. It came, a flower bright, amid the cold of winter when half spent was the night. ~ 15th century German
I am quite familiar with a night half spent. I have a house dog, Maisie, who usually wakes me for a walk in the wee hours. So we trudge along in the muggy heat and the frigid cold and everything in between. By that time, among my neighbors the night owls have finally gone to roost and the earlybirds are not yet making coffee. Sometimes I am struck by the profound silence; not even a distant dog barking. It’s in that deep stillness that we least expect anything unusual to happen.
The Egyptians would never have guessed what was coming. They thought it was a night like any other. But the angel worked swiftly and surely, and there was no escape. Something woke Pharaoh, for “he rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt…” ~ Exodus 12:30.
Centuries later, another cry would pierce the stillness of a half-spent night — the wail of a newborn baby. Once more, the world slumbered, never suspecting that everything was about to change. This time, instead of God’s word speeding a destroyer on its way, the very Word of God in flesh was made manifest to us. Both word and Word issued from heaven’s royal throne, and both were fierce warriors. The first bounded down to slay kin and cattle, while the second alighted to kill death itself. The land of Egypt was doomed because of the devastation that awaited them; the world the Babe entered was doomed for its sin, too. But this Child brought life abundant and eternal. The Wisdom passage even speaks of “all creation, in its several kinds…being made over anew.” And it is in Christ that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay…” ~ Romans 8:21
My favorite image from the Wisdom reading is that of God standing upon the earth and reaching to heaven. What a beautiful picture of Jesus! At his birth, angels bridged heaven and earth to tell the good news. At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on him as a dove. Throughout his earthly ministry, he prayed to the Father, showed us the Father, and was blessed with “the Spirit without limit.” (John 3:34)
Still our Lord reaches from heaven to earth. Someday He will return bearing the sharp sword of judgement once again. But today He extends His strong arm in peace, bidding us to clasp his outstretched hand and receive the life He offers. Don’t wait; the night is already half spent.