I have never paid much attention to December 23, except as a way through to what really mattered, namely December 24 (in my culture of origin, Christmas Eve is the emotional highpoint of Christmas, when the family gathers, the Christmas tree candles are lit, and presents are exchanged, all followed by a festive meal and midnight mass).
But this year, my experience of December 23 has changed. The day suddenly seems more important in and of itself, something akin to a liturgical hinge day, when things begin to turn. As the last of the O-Antiphons is chanted today, our Advent waiting draws to a close and we stand on the threshold of something new. Maybe December 23 – as one of those liminal, threshold days when things liturgical begin to turn — is akin to Holy Saturday (if only in that regard); maybe here are other such liturgical hinge days.
The antiphon for this year’s responsorial psalm at Mass puts us on high alert for what is to come: “your redemption is near at hand.” With that assurance, Advent’s waiting turns toward a new and different kind of encounter with God, as we turn towards the moment of ultimate mystery: God being born in our midst.
Of course our faith is lived within cultural trends that force other experiences of time to the forefront on this December 23: the last few, frantic hours of shopping have arrived. And the retail industry will begin to report on whether its hopes have materialized, in the form of consumers who meet or exceed the expectations of the industry. We cannot escape these peculiar rhythms around December 23. It is precisely within their context that Christians, once again, have to struggle to embody their own rhythm of expectation and materialization. This rhythm invites us, on this day, to begin to slow down rather than to speed up, and to turn, so as to be able to be present, really present, to the heart of Christmas, the mystery of the Word made flesh.