This is the first day in which the Divine Office starts to prepare us for Christmas. It is also the feast of Saint Ignatius of Antioch.
O faithful, let us celebrate beforehand the nativity of Christ; let us raise up our minds to Bethlehem, and we shall be raised up in spirit. We shall meditate upon the Virgin who is on the way to the cave to give birth to the Lord of all, and our God. Joseph saw the magnitude of Christ’s miracles, for He lowered Himself to be revealed as a Man and to be wrapped in swaddling clothes as an Infant. Joseph understood from the events that Jesus was the true God Who grants great mercy to our souls.
Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of St John the Beloved. One tradition had it that he was one of the children of whom Jesus said, “Bring them to me.” This great teacher and martyr has his feast near Christmas because of his beautiful writings to the Churches as he traveled to Rome to meet his end, torn apart by wild animals. He wrote important letters to seven Churches, and in them we see the structure of the early Church, around the year 110, complete with the divinity of Jesus; the role of the bishop for his diocese and the bishop as the focus of unity; the Church as katholikos, or universal; the roles of presbyters (priests) and deacons; liturgy and reverence for the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ; worship on Sunday; and his willingness to die in the arena in order to be saved and taken to heaven and thus to see God at long last. He was estimated to be in his 80s, a very old age for the time, when he was arrested.
The martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch
From Vespers, of Saint Ignatius:
O God-bearing Ignatius, having embraced your beloved Christ, you received the recompense of your priestly work in the service of the Gospel of Christ, and y our life was sealed with your blood. In this you were the wheat of the divine Gardener. You were ground by the teeth of beasts and became the bread agreeable to the Lord. O blessed martyr, implore Him in our behalf.
Bethlehem, make ready for Eden has been opened for all. Ephrathah, be alert, for the Tree of Life has blossomed forth from the Virgin in a cave. Her womb has become a spiritual paradise wherein the divine Fruit was planted, and if we eat of it we shall live and not die like Adam. Christ is coming forth to bring to life the likeness of Adam which had been lost in the beginning.