Monday, December 26, 2005

Amy Welborn on Christmas

Amy Welborn on Christmas (National Review Online):
A Sword Will Pierce Your Heart
The dark side of Christmas.

By Amy Wellborn

"About a year ago, my husband and I traveled across the chilly cornfields of Indiana to the frigid cornfields of Ohio to have our younger son baptized.

It was not quite, but almost, spur of the moment. A bishop, an old friend of my husband's, would be visiting his mother for a few days after Christmas, and yes, he could certainly squeeze a baptism in. The parish church was available, the bishop's sister and mother would be witnesses, and there you have it: insta-baptism.

Perfect timing. A baptism is a happy occasion centered on a baby. Christmas is another happy time centered on a baby, and a fine opportunity to focus ourselves on the vaunted Real Meaning of Christmas. Babies, love, and family. Comfort, joy, and peace.

But perhaps not so fast...."

Today is the "Feast of Stephen" (as in 'Good King Wenseslas went out on the Feast of Stephen'). In the British English-speaking world it is known as Boxing Day. The origin of the name is a matter of controversy, but all the explanations I have heard revolve around service or gifts to the poor.

It is also the commemoration of the martyrdom of Stephen, the deacon. This office was established by the Apostles as a means of seeing that charitable offerings were equitably distributed among those in the early Christian community who needed assistance.

Amy Welborn, who blogs at "open book", writes about the "dark side" of Christmas, beginning with the Nativity. Jesus came into a world that was set against him for the start. It was necessary for Mary and Joseph to flee the country not long after the birth of Jesus. Herod was made aware inadvertently, by the magi, of the birth of of a child accompanied by such portents that they left their homes and travelled to see this child, who they believed was destined to rule. Simeon, who recognized Jesus as the one for whom he awaited, said this to Mary: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35) This disturbing prophesy was close on the heels of Simeon's exclamations of praise that he had lived to see the arrival of the one who would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32)

Herod's paranoid attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne is linked forever with the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which is celebrated on December 28 -- the day the Welborn's son was baptized.

Amy Welborn closes with as clear a statement of the meaning of Christmas that I have seen. The fight over whether people should be able to wish people "Merry Christmas" is insignificant by comparison to what actually happened, and is still happening to those who choose light over darkness:
"...Glad tidings of comfort and joy, and Merry Christmas indeed. But without awareness of the risk of discipleship, and the reality that the baby in the manger ends up hanging on a cross, those words have about as little power to change the world as "Happy Holidays."
Amen, and may we all be reminded on this day that acts of service to others are as if we did them for Jesus Christ himself.

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