The antidote to Christmas nonsense, sentimentalism, and excess is provided by the collects composed for the observances immediately following. These purify us of the self –gratification that so easily infects the time of year:
December 26th – St. Stephen the Martyr
Grant, Lord Jesus Christ, that in all our sufferings here on earth, for the testimony of your truth, we may look up steadfastly to heaven and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and also grant that being filled with the Holy Spirit, we may learn to love and bless our persecutors, as Stephen your first martyr prayed for his persecutors to you, blessed Jesus, who stand at the right hand of God to sustain all those who suffer for you, our only Mediator and Advocate.
Stephen is the exemplar of the ultimate cost of embracing and testifying to the Saviour. The possibility of persecution confronts all believers, more often for us in this country in mild form, but for others in various serious ways. Personal peace and prosperity are desirable for all, to be prayed for, enjoyed and attributed to God’s mercy when possessed. We are invited to seek his provision and protection when necessary. God does not begrudge us his blessings but lavishes them upon us continually. But we are not to be deluded by a sense of immunity from the ills of this world or the ill will of the world. Scripture tells us that we are not to be friends or at ease with the ungodliness of this world. Hatred towards God, or anything truly associated with him, simmers in the hearts of the unbelievers, and their freedom to sin or ignore him, when threatened, incites their enmity. The beauty that attracts us to Christ exposes us to battle with evil, tough to endure, and, even more daunting, to the obligation to be caring for the welfare of those who ill use or assail us. Realism in the experience of Stephen points to the possibilities in coming to the crib on Christmas Day. Like our Lord we must bear a cross and its accompanying strokes inflicted by the opposers of the gospel. With a full grasp of this gospel on Christmas Day we are better prepared for the trials, sacrifice, and suffrages of St. Stephen’s Day. We are on the ready to attest to truth, accept its consequences, and seek the sustaining power of the Saviour of Bethlehem. We do not drop our guard complacently at Christmas but arm ourselves in the Saviour’s might for the fray ahead.
December 27th – St. John the Evangelist
Merciful Lord, let the bright beams of your light shine upon your Church, we pray, so that, being enlightened by the teaching of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John, it may walk in the light of your truth, and come at last to the light of everlasting life: through Jesus Christ our Lord.
John is the enthusiast for truth. He presents it faithfully and winsomely. He knows that for all his industry in proclaiming truth propositionally, it must point to a Person, and that only he, Jesus, can illuminate the mind of the recipient and dispose him to receive the Saviour. Truth is doctrine and narrative, and known in the Person of Jesus who embodies and expresses it. Truth is revelation in its entirety and those who approach Jesus go with him beyond Bethlehem to Nazareth, Capernaum, Jerusalem, and Calvary. The truth of the Nativity is the beginning of the trail to Calvary and true followers go all the way. While they contemplate the crib they also concentrate on all the other saving efforts and events narrated in apostolic memoirs. Christmas, as a season, does not exclude the gospel, but invites its preaching and acceptance. The cross is not an intrusion but a necessary inclusion announcing the purpose in Jesus’ coming and its accomplishment. John was imprisoned for his testimony and in Revelation describes the ordeals of the saints and the cosmic warfare that engulfs them. He hails the hope of everlasting life which Jesus won for his people through his suffering. A sentimental, superficial Christmas must not obliterate the truths so precious to John. Christmas is comprehensive treatment of the Gospel.
December 28th – The Innocents
Almighty God, you who have established praise out of the mouths of infants, and have made children by their deaths glorify you: Put to death all evil within us, and so strengthen us by your grace, that by the purity of our lives and constancy of our faith, we may glorify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So soon after the wonder of birth and the extension of saving grace to little ones we are made to face the death of babies. Nothing is so painful to our hearts, yet the place of infants in the kingdom of God is assured. God glorifies himself by giving little ones insight into his goodness that results in praise, expressed in reliance, cries, and contentment, that stands for ever as an example of simple saving faith to be emulated in proud adults. Infants are helpless and vulnerable. The innocents were not free of original sin, or the propensity to actual sin. They were innocent of any threat to the paranoid king Herod. They died by the cruel hands of men. But God is glorified in the death of children when he catches them at the moment of departure and whisks them home. A greater love awaits them there than any love that could enfold them here. The disappointments and dangers of life have not been ordained for them. Through their earthly parents married love God has made them immediately available for the joys of heaven. They were born for eternal life through Christ and his atonement and the evil within them has been defeated early. The evils and uncongenial inevitabilities of life are recognized at Christmas, not glossed over. Death hunted Jesus at his birth with murderous fury. The story is not all sweet.
The facts of persecution, the desire for maturity of faith, and death’s intervention so soon in life, drive us to the Saviour who was born for our sakes. Christmas is the reminder of our need and the proclamation of his compassion. It is a pity that the memorial days immediately following Christmas are rarely noticed.