Christmas and the Expectation of the Nations

One of the striking triumphs of God in our difficult world is the recurring miracle of Christmas. Once a year the whole of mankind, believers and unbelievers, must think of an event from which all history before and after is dated.

For us who believe, the Event is the Birthday of God in our world, the cause of the very possibility of salvation for us. It is easy for everyone to see how much of major history has revolved around this Event — this Fact — ever since it occurred. But the same is true, for the believing, of all important history, even prior to that day.

If the Old Testament were lost, we Christians could still find the entire Faith in the New Testament. Yet something tremendously important would have been lost. If we did not have the Old Testament, we would not have the deep realization of the connection between the first day of creation and the first Christmas Day. We would certainly have lacked the understanding of the most determining force in all the workings of Divine Providence: God’s Plan for the salvation of men.

Surely it is most thrilling for us who believe and who allow ourselves to be encouraged and enlightened by the Traditions of our Faith to realize that Christmas was promised in Paradise to our first parents, just after their fall. To think with certainty and confidence even in this age of doubt that the Patriarch Jacob, father of the people of Israel, was referring to Christmas as he blessed his twelve sons from his deathbed:

Juda is a lion’s whelp: to the prey my son thou art gone up. . . . The scepter shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent, and he shall be the expectation of nations. (Gen. 49:9-JO.)

The prophetic point here could easily have been missed, but Tradition universally takes it as referring to the Birth of the Savior. The dying Patriarch is seen to be talking, almost casually, of Him who is to be sent, and who shall be the expectation of the nations. Jacob obviously knew that his hearers understood what he meant. While the Event was yet to come — about fifteen hundred years later — it was already a notorious fact, whose eventual fulfillment was taken for granted.

Echoes of this are abundant. And the more casual they are, so also the more convincing they are. The Magi arrive in Jerusalem, coming from very distant lands, and they casually inquire about the one who is to be born King of the Jews. The question is brought up to King Herod, who sum­mons the men who are learned in the Scriptures, and asks them, “Where is Christ to be born?” Without hesitation, the learned scholars answer Herod: “In Bethlehem of Juda.” Notice that Jesus is still a Baby in the crib. There has been yet no public life, no sermon on the mount, no miracles, no crucifixion on Golgotha, and no Resurrection. And yet Christ is talked about already as a reality taken for granted by everyone. Not only by the people of Israel, but by people coming from the distant Orient.

O how the heart of a true believer thrills at the simple stories so can­didly reported in the Gospels, clearly indicating how truly Jesus was “the expectation of the nations”! Andrew, having met Jesus for the first time, goes and finds his brother Simon (later to be named Peter by Jesus Him­self), and says to him, “We have found the Messias.” And Philip finds his friend Bartholomew and says, “Him, of whom Moses and the proph­ets wrote, we have found.” And the woman at the well in Samaria, before hearing anything from Jesus or about Him, says, talking from her own traditions more pagan than Jewish, “We know that when the Christ cometh He will teach us all things.” And that even more pagan and more distant woman, the Syro-Phoenician in the region of Sidon, ad­dressed Jesus, seeking from Him what could not be sought from a mere man, saying, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” She knew, of course, that David, who lived one thousand years before their time, could not be His father. But “Son of David” meant to the pagan nations what “Messias meant to the Jews — namely, the Christ, the Savior of the world. For had not God sworn to David (and was this not the reason why David was so universally known) that the Savior would be his Son, or his descendant?

We thank God that we were born not before, but after, that first Christmas. The thousands of men who lived in all the centuries of years prior to the Birth of Jesus obviously had no Christmas to look forward to every year. Yet even in those long and dreary years, their highest and holiest aspirations were centered in that Great Event to come. And the holier they were, all the more was it true.