The Visit of the Magi, Unknown 14th Century Ivory, probably English, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA.

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“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…”       John 1:14

Nothing quite beats the announcement of the Lord’s birth than the language of the Roman Martyrology, an exhaustive compilation created originally in the 16th century from ancient texts. It records the many saints who died rather than renounce Christ, plus a compilation of the various ceremonies of the Latin Rite Roman Church (that is, the Catholic Church’s largest subdivision, there being many other eastern Catholic rites and traditions). Here is what is says concerning the birth of Christ:

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

The Twenty-fifth Day of December,

when ages beyond number had run their course
from the creation of the world,

when God in the beginning created heaven and earth,
and formed man in his own likeness;

when century upon century had passed
since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood,
as a sign of covenant and peace;

in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith,
came out of Ur of the Chaldees;

in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses
in the Exodus from Egypt;

around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

in the year seven hundred and fifty-two
since the foundation of the City of Rome;

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,
the whole world being at peace,

JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence,
was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and when nine months had passed since his conception,
was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah,
and was made man:

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

When that is sung in Latin, with those numbers ringing in your ears, there is nothing quite like it anywhere, any time. It is magnificent, and utterly appropriate to the day. For this is the day we celebrate the birth of our salvation, the Savior of us all, the one who loved us to his death, and continues to bless us with his presence day after day. The angels sang Gloria in excelsis Deo, the heavens rejoiced, for God had shown the depth of divine love of us by giving us Jesus, Son of God and Savior of us all. 

So this was the fulfillment of God’s prophecy that one would emerge who would liberate us all, would show the way to happiness both in this life but especially in the next, and would demonstrate clearly and perfectly what it means to be a child of God. And the first to know this were the humblest of the humble, lowly shepherds out in the field attending to their sheep. Directed by the angelic hosts they came, they saw and they believed. So we, too, on this day of days, recall that wondrous event which changed the history of the world, and continues to change our own destinies, as we try, with God’s constant help, to act as God’s true children.


Adoration of the Shepherds, Bronzino, Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest, Hungary.