One of the things I like about the church calendar is that it moves on. Over the last two days I have preached about the whitewashed nativity images that we have in some of our hymns, our Christmas cards, and those saccharine-sweet, toothache-inducing Nativity plays. But, the church calendar ignores all that.
Jesus was born into a messy world, and we may try to ignore it the church calendar doesn’t. I once heard the church calendar described as a hurricane. We move from the loud, name-calling, and badly dressed John the Baptist to the Glorias of the angels. Christmas Day is merely the eye of the storm. If you’ve never experienced a hurricane, then you can only imagine the loud wind that sounds like it will knock the house down only to be followed by the calm of of the eye. Once the eye passes, you are right back in the midst of the hurricane.
Today, the hurricane stirs up two-fold. First, the church has set aside 26th December as the day to remember St. Stephen, the first martyr. Unfortunately, because everyone is tired from the lead-up and celebration of Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day goes unobserved and unnoticed (except for a passing mention in the carol Good King Wenceslas). We go from ‘Glory to the Newborn King’ to the stoning death of one of the newborn king’s first follower.
The second way the hurricane stirred up today is in the set readings for the Second Sunday of Christmas (i.e., today), Herod’s massacre of the children of Bethlehem. Rev. Kirsty Thorpe, Moderator of the United Reform Church, was our guest preacher this morning at Wilpshire as part of our Churches Together Christmas service. She boldly took on those texts and did a great job with them, reminding us even with the festivities of Christmas there are despots and dictators in the world (she mention Kim Jong-il as one).
That’s the point of the church calendar. Christ was born into a world of Herods, and Christmas doesn’t need to provide a fairy tale world that pretends it’s all fine and look at a cute 5 year old playing Mary. Christmas is a call for the church to stand up to Herod, even when it may cost as it did for Stephen.