January 1, 2017
What are the Major Feasts during the season of Christmas, and why, during this season of joy, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents included?
The feasts of special note for the season of Christmas are: The Feast of St. Stephen, December 26, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, December 27, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, and the Feast of the Holy Name, January 1.
Because we will be reading about the Feast of the Holy Name, I will let Tracey Kelly fill you in on its significance. The others feasts are important ones on the Christian calendar, and except for the notice of the Feast of Stephen, as boxing day (the day the 1% served their servants) and in the song about good King Wenceslas, they pass unnoticed.
What we know about Stephen's life is contained in Acts 6:1-7:60. He was likely a Jew raised in the Greek speaking world, he was one of seven men chosen as deacons to serve the widows of the diaspora in the food distribution, and he was arrested, spoke before the Sanhedrin as a witness to Jesus, and was stoned to death outside of Jerusalem with Saul (soon to be Paul) holding the cloaks of the stoners. He was an exemplar of sacrifice and service.
St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist (i.e. Gospel writer) was one of the twelve and is traditionally attributed to be the brother of James and a son of Zebedee, in that case, he is one of twelve and a witness to Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection, along with being the caretaker of Mary, the mother of Jesus, after his crucifixion. He is the only one of the twelve who is not martyred and dies on the island of Patmos of old age. He was a key witness to the power of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
Holy Innocents is the most troubling story of this period. It has been excised from the readings about the flight to Egypt of the Holy Family which is told in chapter two of Matthew. Once Herod figures out that the Magi are not returning to Jerusalem he orders the massacre of the male children 2 years old and under in the town of Bethlehem. Consistent with Matthew's portrayal of Jesus as a second Moses this is a story consistent with Pharaoh's orders to kill the male children of the Israelites. It is a disturbing story but not out of characters for fearful authoritarians, and consistent with God's actions to redeem his people and the human race from its worst circumstances.
Like many Christian feasts, the good and the bad are held together and made holy by the work of God.
The Rev. David Lucey