Sunday, December 26, 2004

St. Stephen's Day

As long as we're going to put things back in to Christmas (it's an argument I first heard decades ago; it wasn't until Greek studies in seminary that it became apparent the "X" in "Xmas" was the Greek "chi" is "Christos." Which, of course, is where "Christ" comes from. "Xmas" became widespread when people in early 20th century America were interested enough in Greek to study the language by mail), maybe we should start with death.

Not as far fetched as it sounds. Of the three gifts brought by the Magi, all three are symbolic of royalty, but one particularly signifies death. Frankincense was used to perfume corpses, for reasons too obvious to really need explanation. Odd gift to bring a young child. And what follows from their visit; well, we'll get to that on its day.

But today, the feast of St. Stephen, is the memorial of the first martyr of the Christian church. Not a big day on the American calendar because most of our religious forebears specifically excluded saints days from their religious calendars. But the liturgical observance of Christmas is not all about babies and toys for children and huge red ribbons on the roofs of luxury cars. It is also about those things modern America seems set up precisely to deny. That inclusion has a theological point, too. One we'll get to shortly.

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