Probably the most memorable Christmas Eve I can recall was the night 36 years ago when I proposed to the woman who became my wife.

It sounds schmaltzy, and it was: we went out for a romantic dinner and, at desert, the waiter brought out a tray containing a small package: the engagement ring. (Spoiler alert: It was hardly a surprise. We’d been talking about getting married for months.) Everything after that was a blur, but I’ll always think of that Christmas Eve as the best one of my life, when the most wondrous gift was delivered a day early.

This Gospel, unfolding before us on Christmas Eve, offers another kind of wondrous gift on the day before the greatest gift: it’s the Canticle of Zechariah, his beautiful prophecy about his son, who would become John the Baptist. It’s one man’s vision of a world about to be redeemed “in the tender compassion of our God.” Here is a hope about to be realized, centuries of longing about to be fulfilled, millennia of expectation and waiting coming to a conclusion.

A new moment in history is about to crack open. 

For those of us completing this Advent journey, it is a moment to reflect and rejoice—and to feel renewed. The dawn will break. Light will beam. This evening, we may look around us with a sense of possibility and peace, to see garlands glimmering, candles burning, young faces scanning the horizon and trying to stay awake.

This sense of anticipation and hope is one we should savor in the last hours before we celebrate Christ’s birth. The waiting is almost over.

But as I remember thinking on that Christmas Eve so many years ago: the next great chapter is about to begin.

— from “The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2018” (Ave Maria Press)