The light of that night

One hundred twenty-two years ago, Col. M.M. Murdock, founder of the Wichita City Eagle, sat down at his desk and wrote the following, which appeared on Christmas Day 1888. The editorial has been reprinted annually, usually on Christmas Eve, with only a few years’ interruption since.

This is Christmas Eve. There lies upon our table, as we write, a paper knife formed like a scimitar. It is of opalescent pearl and was given us by Col. Milton Stewart who saw it fashioned by a descendant of Abraham in Bethlehem of Judea only a few months ago.

As this is an hour that links earth and heaven and whispers immortality to the mortal, our friend’s gift becomes to us a beautiful emblem of faith, which spans time and space, and we are back among the low-lying hills of Judea, as their wavering lines roll away into the starlit folds of a solemn night 1,900 years ago.

The frowning slopes of Nebo lay sleeping, and in shadow and in silence rested the mountain and plains of Moab. Under the burthens of the Roman yoke and the disappointments of centuries the people of Moses had well nigh forgotten, or only as a fading picture of an ancestral dream, remembered promises of their prophets. The contented flocks were ruminating in peace at the feet of their shepherds, guardians who were only less slaves than the brethren of the villages and cities in that they ever stood nearer Israel’s God by the contemplation of his works.

Little Bethlehem, the same Bethlehem from whence came this curious knife wrought out with such infinite pains. “Thou Bethlehem” of low encompassing walls and dirt thatched homes, was that night sheltering the taxed of the land of Judea. Shadows and silence were also here. Watching had ceased, and waking eyes had closed throughout “the Promised Land,” save those of the flock tenders of the wild pastures and Herod’s patrolling guards. The ever murky water of the Jordan went murmuring on to the sea as on that day when Joshua had erected beside its darkening waters his simple memorial to the miraculous acts in the love of Him who had promised in the seed of Abraham a king and a deliverer; and this goodly heritage of pasture and of vineyards.

But in that faraway land and faroff time, there was one who could not sleep, who could not rest. As fell the shadows of that puissant hour there was one, a virgin daughter of a chosen people, whose intensely lustrous eyes looked out from a low-roofed stable upon the glories of the heaven with a mingled feeling of anxiety and of ecstasy such as never agitated a human breast: Imminent upon that maiden’s trembling soul hung the destinies of all her kind, the fulfillment of the great promise to her people; hung the potentialities and the fruition of all the prayers and all the tears of all the ages.

Suddenly there appeared high over the land a gleam of glory, a halo whose radiance was that of a king’s diadem, its bright nimbus a benediction. It descended from heaven and rested on the fair brow of a maiden mother. By angelic hosts, innumerable in a rapturous Te Deum, it was hailed with the acclaim of “peace on earth, good will to men.” It was the star of Bethlehem! And, lo, in its light lay revealed the redeemer of mankind, as a babe in the manger; a king, the shadow of whose crown was a cross, the symbol of redemption and the promise of life that is eternal.

The revelations of that night, by that star, have never dimmed; its emblem remains the hope of the world, and tonight, this night around about this world of so many sorrows, this heritage of our common humanity, in all climes, everywhere, the refrain of that angelic chorus is being sung again, peace on earth, good will to men — it was the star of Bethlehem!