By the time many of you read these words, Christmas will be upon us or even past. So often we find ourselves so caught up in the fervor and excitement of the days preceding Christmas and we collapse by the evening of December 25th. “Christmas is finally over,” we say.
But the Christmas season isn’t over. Christmas Day is immediately followed by other significant days in the church calendar. In their spiritual wisdom the Church fathers placed three holy days immediately following December 25th. Saint Stephen’s Day is observed on December 26th, Saint John the Evangelist is celebrated on December 27th and Holy Innocents (the children killed by Herod in Bethlehem) on December 28th. These days were set aside for special devotion and worship and are worthy of consideration as days to think about Christian witness.
The persons represented on these three successive days run the gamut of Christian intent. The Holy Innocents did not plan on being martyrs but became martyrs anyway. Saint John was willing to be a martyr but was not called by Christ to do be. Saint Stephen was both willing to be a martyr and was called to be one as well. So, not all was well following the bucolic peace of Bethlehem Eve. Chaos reigned. Death was in the air! “Quick, wake up! Get out of town. The footsteps of shepherds are now being followed by the tramp of soldiers’ feet.”
Christmas passes. The Star fades. The angelic choir recedes once more beyond the clouds. And yet, I am sure that no one who was there that first Christmas night ever forgot what they saw. They were there at the beginning and they were changed; these shepherds, wise men and… I would like to think, the InnKeeper’s wife. Someone had to bring the clean rags and hot water!
May you be forever changed by the event of Christmas.