Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve reminds us of how earth-shaking the Nativity story originally was.
Ever since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by the dramatic proclamation often made at the opening of this solemn liturgy. It reminds us that Christ’s birth in Bethlehem really is the turning point of the history of the world:
Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
Unknown ages from the time
when God created the heavens and the earth
and then formed man and woman in his own image.
Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth
as a sign of the covenant.
Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.
In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the
city of Rome.
The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.
Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ,
according to the flesh.
As a kid, I didn’t know who Octavian Augustus was or the significance of the 194th Olympiad or the 65th week of Daniel’s prophecy. But that didn’t matter. The point of the proclamation was still very clear. From the creation of man and woman at the beginning of time all the way up to the Roman empire’s dominance in the first century, the story of the human family reaches its climax in the coming of this child on Christmas night.
Bethlehem now becomes the stage for the final act of God’s saving plan.
In this sense, the Christmas hymn “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” hits it right on the mark when, in speaking of this Jewish city, it says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
This excerpt is from Edward Sri’s book The Dawn of the Messiah (Servant Books).