12. And while Isaiah openly foretold these events, the magi worshipped Him in person, bringing gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2:11, cf Isa. 60:6) to Him who, through death, symbolized by myrrh, grants us divinely inspired life, of which frankincense is an image, and His divine radiance and kingdom, represented by the gold offered to the giver of eternal glory. On account of Him who is born today shepherds stand in the same choir as angels, sing the same hymn, and strike up a melody together. The angels do not take the shepherds’ pipes into their hands, but the shepherds, surrounded by the radiance of the angels’ light, find themselves in the midst of the heavenly host and are taught a heavenly song of praise by the angels, or rather a hymn both heavenly and earthly saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace” (Luke 2:14). Now He who dwells on high and reigns over the celestial heights has the earth as His throne, and is glorified on earth as much as there (cf Isa. 66:1, Acts 7:49), by His saints and His angels alike. — St. Gregory Palamas, Homily Fifty-Eight on the Saving Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior.
Hidden within this explanation of the gifts brought to Christ by the three magi and the song sung by the angels to the shepherds is the word “today.” Within the context of the liturgy, all these things happen now. Palamas is not referring to a re-inactment or a re-living of the event, but, rather, its eternal reality and our participation in it. This reality becomes clear with a close examination of the Divine Liturgy.
Though on a normal Sunday we sing the Antiphons or the Beatitudes at the beginning of liturgy, these things do not begin the liturgy proper — the Small Entrance does. In the architecture of ancient churches, there used to be a kind of out-building where the people would bring the bread for the services and things like the Gospel Book, the Chalice and the Discos were kept. During the chanting of the Antiphons, the people would gather outside the church, next to this out-building. At the Small Entrance, the clergy would collect the Gospel Book and enter into the sanctuary, followed by the people. We still do this in spirit. Note the prayer said by the priest as he takes up the Gospel Book:
Master and Lord our God, You have established in heaven the orders and hosts of angels and archangels to minister to Your glory. Grant that the holy angels may enter with us that together we may serve and glorify Your goodness. For to You belong all glory, honor, and worship to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. — Prayer of the Small Entrance
Note also the first hymn we sing after the Small Entrance, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!” — a hymn that mimics the angels seen by Isaiah surrounding the Throne of God in the heavens (cf Isaiah 6:3). With these words, we do not merely place the Gospel Book onto the Holy Table, we enter into a time and space where the Kingdom of Heaven penetrates into the fallen world. Through the grace of God we participate in His time — the eternal now. Thus, this Christmas, we will not merely be remembering the Incarnation of Christ, we will participate in its eternity. We, too, will be able to say “Christ is born today!” Amen.