Since long before the time of Christ, the Jewish people have reckoned a day as beginning with sunset and ending with the following sunset. The early Church followed that system to a degree by beginning her more important feasts in the evening before the day itself. In her official prayer arrangement, we have what has been called “first vespers” or first evening prayer. Then, on the day of the feast itself, we have at the end of the day the second vespers by which we continue to celebrate that particular event or saint. So December 24 takes its character from the fact that as the sun goes down on this day, the great festival of the birth of Christ our Savior begins. Many Christians down through the ages have attended Mass at midnight, imitating the monks and nuns in the abbeys and monasteries of the world by rising during the night to give praise to God . We call that practice “keeping vigil.” A vigil is a period of time ordinarily given to sleep, but during which some remain awake to pray. “Watch and pray!”
Lots of folks will be rushing around today doing last-minute Christmas shopping, or decorating, or cooking, or traveling to get to where they want to spend Christmas. But if we want to observe this beautiful event based upon the prayer-life of the Church, we should set aside some time in which we can sit, or kneel, or stand, or walk peacefully and thoughtfully, and remember what we are celebrating. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. It is appropriate that we begin this meditation today and not let the busy-ness of our holiday activities totally erase from our minds the essence of Christmas. How foolish and sad it would be if we were so busy with Christmas shopping, decorating, cooking and traveling that we didn’t have time to celebrate in thankful prayer the birth of the Lord into the world and into our human race!
To all those who hear or read these words, I offer my very best and sincerest wishes that God will bless you at this Christmastide. That you will rejoice over the incarnation—the “enfleshment” of the Son of God. And that you will renew your efforts to live as you know the newborn Savior wants you to live, as outlined for us in his incomparable gospels. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you, my friends. Merry Christmas!
Note: Father Brown composed this message in the past.