Today the Virgin comes to the cave where she will give birth in an ineffable manner to the Word Who is before all the ages. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear it heralded: Glorify Him, with the angels and the shepherds, Who chose to be seen as a new-born babe, the God Who is before all the ages.
Come, you nations that have put on Christ, let us behold a wonder that overtakes all minds with astonishment; and as we kneel down in true worship, let us give praise in faith; for the Maiden, having conceived, comes today to Bethlehem, to give birth to the Lord. The ranks of angels hasten, and Joseph, seeing these things, shouts, crying, What is this strange mystery that has befallen You, O Virgin? And how shall you give birth, O ewe lamb that has not known wedlock?
In many of the hymns of the Church around great feasts (like Nativity), the hymns say “today.” Someone asked me to help him wrap his mind around what “today” means in the Church’s hymns. This is what I wrote him. Maybe some of you will find this helpful.
When the Church hymns say “today,” there are two meanings, and these two meanings are connected. On the easiest level “today” means “on this day in history” and we are remembering this day. But remembering is more than just calling to mind that something happened in the past. For example, when someone dies, we pray “memory eternal.” There is something about remembering something or someone that keeps it or them alive. There is something spiritually real about remembering that makes us present with the person or event we are remembering. On an emotional level, we can feel emotions in the present when we remember past events or people.
This leads to the second meaning of “today,” which is that in God all events and people of earth are present. God is not limited by time, and as we grow in theosis and partake more and more in the divine nature—especially in the Age to Come, but to a smaller degree in this age too (especially saints)—we can and will know and experience reality in the same way: outside time. So in that sense, all of history, and especially all of the events of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, are always now. We can, in a spiritual sense, be with Christ in Bethlehem and be with Christ on the Cross and be with Christ at the Last Supper. We sing these verses by faith, even though most of us don’t really experience much of this in a conscious spiritual way. Nonetheless, we believe it is true, and many Orthodox faithful experience a brief glimps of this reality at various times in their life.