From the Rector: Happy Martyr Days

Today is perhaps the day when we see the acute contrast between how the church celebrates Christmas and how our secular world celebrates Christmas. We are only into the second day of the twelve days of Christmas, and yet you might see Christmas trees being thrown away or taken down. Yet the church continues to honor the birth of Christ with three days of martyrs which immediately follow Christmas Day - St. Stephen's Day, St. John's Day, and the Holy Innocents. At first glance it seems like a strange juxtaposition - the birth of Christ and the celebration of martyr days.

Today is St. Stephen's Day, and the church vestments quickly change from white to red. Stephen was the first martyr of Christ to die for the faith. (I knew someone who thought the red vestments on St. Stephen's Day were displayed to match the poinsettias!) On December 27 we do not use red vestments for John the Evangelist - his feast day color is white. Nevertheless he died in exile for the faith. On December 28 we hear about Herod's wrath, and we mourn all those children who died in Bethlehem. As people mob the malls returning gifts, and as we carry on with holiday parties, we are reminded that the child of Bethlehem will ultimately make a great sacrifice for each of us. We are also reminded of the many faithful who have been willing to make the same sacrifice, following in our Lord's steps.

At first this might seem like a Christmas killjoy - entirely too morbid! For those who need a constant fix of spiritual coziness it probably is too morbid. Yet if we are to be truthful, it is far better to choose God's sacrificial love instead of the coziness which reduces the power of our faith to save.

In the old calendars of the church, January 1 was called the Circumcision of Jesus Christ. We now call it the Holy Name, but nevertheless, January 1 is always the eighth day of Christmas - the day when Jewish boys were circumcised. Our Lord was no different. Mary and Joseph would have their child circumcised on the eighth day. Jesus would be under the law, and yet he would give us the grace that ultimately transcends the law. The circumcision prefigures the cross in Christian theology. On January 1 our Lord would shed blood for the first time for the salvation of the world. Again the calendar gives us a dose of earthy reality during Christmastide.

As we enjoy the Christmas parties, and as we make our New Year's toasts, we are called to remember the true reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God has taken on flesh so that we might be saved. Unlike what the secular world proposes for Christmas, we actually have a better reason for celebration. Through the hard wood of the crib and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, each one of us has been given an eternal inheritance. Such knowledge makes the refrain, "O come let us adore him," so much more meaningful. This infant king is not just a cute little child. He is the Lord who will ultimately conquer all death by sacrificing his own life.

Happy Christmas,
Father Paul Lillie+