On January 6, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord. This feast commemorates no event but presents an idea that assumes concrete form only through the facts our Lord's life. The idea of Epiphany is that the Christ who was born in Bethlehem is recognized by the world as God. At Christmas, God appears as man, and at Epiphany, this man appears before the world as God. That Christ became man needed no proof. But that this man, this helpless child, is God needed proof. The manifestations of the Trinity, the signs and wonders performed by this man, and all his miracles have the purpose of proving to men that Jesus is God. Lately, especially in the Western Church, the story of the Magi has been associated with this feast day. As Gentiles who were brought to faith in Jesus Christ, the Magi represent all believers from the Gentile world.
With the glory of the Lord still shining from Luke 2, we assemble once again to celebrate with joy the Word made flesh. The mystery of the incarnation is beyond us. Yet we are blessed to participate in him who is born the Bread of Life in the House of Bread. How beautiful is the good news! How radiant his glory! How perfect his timing! How gracious is the Father to give us his son for us and for our salvation!
Within the Church Year, the Festival of Christmas is actually celebrated on Christmas Day (as we will do tomorrow morning). The Festival of Christmas, like the festival of Easter, is celebrated with a vigil. The word “vigil” is from the Latin word meaning, “watchfulness.” Our English word “vigilant,” is a derivative of this word. As we have heard during the season of Advent, we were encouraged to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and to keep watch—to be vigilant for the coming of Christ. Tonight, we see the culmination of the Advent season as we “keep watch” for Christmas Day.
In modern times, vigils have been used to commemorate or observe an important or tragic event or the death of a notable or significant person. They are usually celebrated in a muted and calm way, and often involve the use of candles.
In the Christian Church vigils have been used in very much the same way. However, the focus has always been and will always be on Christ. Traditionally the Christmas Vigil has been celebrated late in the evening in order that the end of the service coincides with the changing from December 24th to December 25th at midnight. Tonight, with Christians around the world, we gather once again at the Christmas Vigil, waiting and watching for the coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem.