The Christmas celebration has been so taken captive by the commercial and entertainment interests of our society, that it has almost ceased to be a time of reflection on the event that changed the course of human history – or as the apostle Paul would state it: is the key to the mystery of human history (Colossians 1:15-27). But, before I take a break from posting these Blogs until after the first of the year, there are a couple of other liturgical observances that the church has historically noted, but which are usually avoided because they are so tragic that they put damper on our superficial understanding of the consequences of the incarnation of God in Christ. In those earlier centuries when the church (primarily the Roman Catholic) began to form the liturgical calendar for the year, they not only did is to assure that the major events of the life and ministry of Christ were annually celebrated, … but they also included remembrances of significant events, and of the ministry of unusually gifted saints into that calendar.

For whatever reason, I became fascinated by this liturgical calendar through the influence of a wonderful and devout Roman Catholic friend, and in my own prayer and contemplation use them as good reminders of faithfulness, and of the consequences of such faithfulness. In the very recent days Pope Francis has elevated Latin American bishop and martyr, Oscar Romero, to sainthood for his opposition to the wickedness of the military government in El Salvador, which provoked his assassination.

But, back to what all this has to do with us in this Christmas season, as we reflect on God’s invasion of human history in Christ, … the God, who in Christ was reconciling the world unto himself. It is interesting to note that in the liturgical calendar, the day after Christmas, December 26th, is the Feast of St. Stephen the Martyr. Isn’t that interesting? Stephen is our reminder that to be faithful in our calling to herald Jesus as God’s heaven-sent messiah can call forth the wrath of those who dispute that—in Stephen’s case, his Jewish countrymen. (To be honest, he also declared that God does not dwell in temples made with hands, which was to de-sacralize their reverence for the temple in Jerusalem, which didn’t go down well with his opponents). Stephen was a deacon, a servant to others, who was also a witness to God’s anointed Son, as the long-awaited messiah of the Jews.

Thus, the church along the way, declared that on the day after the celebration of the nativity, it should celebrate the first martyr of the Christian church. That would be followed on December 27th by the Feast of John the Apostle. … then, now note: December 28th is the Feast / Remembrance of the Massacre of the Innocents – of King Herod’s attempt to stamp out any competitors to his rule through a “king of the Jews,” whom the wise men were seeking. He did this by destroying a whole generation of young boys, which caused great lament and grief in the land. Thus, the church wanted us to never forget the innocent victims of human rage against God’s messiah. These two post-Christmas feast days are, to me, a necessary reminder to avoid any sense of ‘triumphalism’ in our Christian calling, … plus that there are many innocent victims, who through no fault of their own become the tragic result of human fear and wickedness. (Now, less that sound too remote, let me remind my readers of the current tragedy of children being forcefully separated from their parents, or being tear-gassed on this nation’s southern border, people who through no fault of their own were fleeing in fear the violence of their home countries in Latin America.) Yes, the massacre of the innocents is not to be consigned to ancient history. It is present today in many places of the earth.

With those sobering reminders of two liturgical feast days, may these immediate days, for you, find time for reflections on the meaning and consequences of Christ’s nativity.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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