I think it’s fair to say that there is no other day that brings as much anticipation as Christmas Eve. As a child, it’s hard to sleep. You just want it to be Christmas morning — preferably while it’s still dark so the tree looks magical as the lights cast a glow on the presents that weren’t there when you went to bed. You can’t wait to open them, but you don’t want to spoil the beauty and the surprise yet either. It is a time full of mystery and excitement.
As a parent, you’re running full-tilt getting everything ready. You’re not only wrapping gifts until the wee hours of the morning, you’re making sure you’ve got everything you need from the store. You’re thinking of the guests who will be arriving for dinner (or the trip you’ll be making to the in-laws) the cleanliness of your home, and the hope of getting enough sleep that you won’t be in too much of a zombie stupor to assemble the toys you got your little ones.
As a priest, you’re preparing the parish, making sure the choir, ushers, and servers are ready, hearing last-minute confessions, and getting ready for an evening (and morning to follow) when you celebrate some of the most beautiful and moving liturgies.
Everyone is busy. Everyone is waiting. Everyone is excited. There is a lot of anticipation.
Consider the anticipation of Joseph and Mary. The anticipation of arriving late into a city that was not their own, Mary deep in the pains of labor, searching for a decent place to stay before the baby came and not finding one. The fear, the discomfort, the anxiety, the urgency.
What was St. Joseph thinking? His wife carrying a child who was of his house but not flesh of his flesh. He was leading them on a trip he no doubt would have preferred to avoid with her so far into the pregnancy, and at the command of a government that wanted to tax him. Now he is in a city trying to find a place to stay with no luck, and not much money, and Mary is ready to give birth. And he trusted. They trusted. They found the manger. And the Creator of the World, was born into the lowliest of places, divinity made flesh.
Yes, we can easily get caught up with the details of Christmas, with the planning and the feasting and the decorations and all of it. Lots of anticipation, all of it a good thing. We are excited because deep down, we know that Christmas is special. Because there is no other moment in time like it. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)