The Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary is aptly placed in the center of the Joyful Mysteries, as the Nativity of the Lord is at the center of history. We are blessed this year that we get a Christmas version of the Easter Triduum: the Fourth Sunday of Advent runs right into the Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord, and our waiting is punctuated with joy at the birth of the Savior.
The Catechism recalls this joy in its commentary on the Incarnation of the Lord. It is joyful particularly because of the waiting, and the first to hear the Good News were the shepherds who made their living waiting. To the shepherds, the angel announced the birth of Jesus as the Messiah promised to Israel: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." From the beginning He was "the one Whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world," conceived as "holy" in Mary's virginal womb. God called Joseph to "take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit," so that Jesus, "Who is called Christ," should be born of Joseph's spouse into the messianic lineage of David (437).
The entry of our Lord into time is the most important event in human history. Not since the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden had God walked with men. Yet on that first Noel, God once again was present among men, and this time He came in the flesh.
After our first parents' sin of pride, mankind was thrust into the darkness of a world awash with sin and the works of evil. They suffered and died in ways that God never intended for His children. But the Father Whose mercy and love surpasses all understanding had a plan to rescue us from our own folly. The Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes was there to save humanity from death and darkness. The One Who is light came to bring light back into world.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you Who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests." (Luke 2: 9-14)
The encounter with Christ is not some story from a dusty book or feeling evoked by eggnog and carols, it is an encounter with a real divine Person, with Love Himself.
We have the same opportunity the shepherds did each day, but especially at the Solemn Mass at Midnight for the Nativity of the Lord when we hear the Proclamation of the Birth of Jesus Christ from the Roman Martyrology. This proclamation places Christ squarely into history, and into our lives. We must not let this invitation pass us by, but open our hearts to God as readily as we open our mouths to receive Him in the Eucharist.
Today, the twenty-fifth day of December
Unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth
And then formed man and woman in his own image.
Several thousand years after the flood,
When God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.
Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
Thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
One thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
In the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.
In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
The seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.
The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
The whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
Desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
Being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And nine months having passed since his conception,
Was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.
Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.