We don’t stop wondering at the Christmas crib. Christmas is over for most people today. The tree’s taken down, decorations put away. But the Christmas mystery is too big for a one day celebration; that’s why the church prepares for this celebration through the four weeks of Advent and continues through the days of the Christmas season till the Feast of the Epiphany. Christmas Day may be over, but our celebration and reflection on the Christmas mystery is not over.
This mystery raises questions and has consequences, which the feasts that follow Christmas Day explore. Since ancient times churches of the east and west have celebrated the feast of Stephen, one of the first disciples of Jesus and the first to die giving witness to him. (Acts 6,8 ff) on December 26.
When Jesus was born “all who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2,18) But Stephen would be stoned to death when he told about the One who was sent. The message will not always be heard, yet still must be told.
“The love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven,” St. Fulgentius says of the martyr Stephen.
December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents; little children from Bethlehem put to death by Herod the Great so no rivals would challenge his power and throne. (Matthew 2, 13-18) When Jesus was born “all who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2,18) Yet Herod the Great heard the message and tried to end it. The birth of Jesus does not bring an end to evil in the world. The Child is born “for to die for poor orn’ry creatures like you and like I.”
December 27th is the feast of St. John, the apostle. This is another feast celebrated along with the Christmas feast by all the churches of the east and west from earliest times. It explores the great question: Who is this Child born of Mary? Writings identified with John the Apostle– the 4th Gospel and letters– are read at Mass on Christmas Day and days that follow the feast.
Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is true God and true man, “the Word made flesh, the Word of God who made all things, dwells among us.”
Like the shepherds who watched in the darkness we need to keep our eyes on this sign of light: “the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Like Mary, we need to keep reflecting on this mystery in our heart to appreciate what it means for the world and for us. Like Joseph we don’t stop wondering.