Twelvetide - Reflections 12-27-18

Texts for the first Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2018

Jeremiah 31:15-17
Psalm 124
1 Peter 4:12-19
Matthew 2:13-18

Christmas is just getting started. 

While the sales world assures us that Christmas is over, hence the  post-Christmas sales, Christmas trees are out on the curb, and the all-Christmas music radio stations have disappeared, the Christmas season has just started according to the Church year calendar.   Today is only day three of the 12 day season, sometimes called Twelvetide or, more popularly, the 12 days of Christmas. Yes, like the song.

Originally, so they say, the days between Christmas (12/25) and Epiphany (1/6) were officially days when one didn’t have to fast (as in not eat) because each day commemorated a saint or an event. Through the years who or what was commemorated changed depending on country or religion. But in any case that meant 12 glorious days of feasting… or at least eating, not fasting…Old England described it as 12 days of merrymaking.

On the 12 days, gifts might be given each day or wishes for each month of the year shared day by day. A current resource for families suggest singing a different carol each day or doing a special daily “good deed”.  

In countries associated with the United Kingdom, December 26  is called Boxing Day. Traditionally the collection box in churches that received donations for the poor are opened and the money distributed to those in need.

In my tradition, December 26 is the commemoration of St. Stephen who is the first deacon of the church. As a deacon, I certainly honor his ministry. However, he is better known as the first martyr of the early church. Hmmm.

And yet, the day of Stephen is still a feast day, a celebration, of the church. As is December 28 which commemorates the innocent victims of King Herod’s paranoia. Since the Magi didn’t spill the beans about where in Bethlehem they had found Jesus, all boys two years old or younger in Bethlehem were killed by Herod’s soldiers. Just before that, Joseph was warned in a dream to get out of Dodge; he and Mary and Jesus went to Egypt to live for a few years as refugees there. 

That is the Gospel story we are looking at this Sunday at Gloria Dei. We chose this story over the assigned story of Jesus as a 12 year whiz kid in the temple. Looking around our world there are still so many innocents caught in battles that have nothing to do with them. It seemed appropriate to spend some reflection time on this horror story from Jesus’ earlier days. In literary terms, it is a foreshadowing of what Jesus faces ahead. In real life, power and principalities, paranoia and hate still have a hold on our lives together and evil still has its victims.

Today’s innocents are trafficked for sex or labor, are used as child soldiers, are collateral damage in war, refugees living in overcrowded and under-served refugee or displacement camps, are starving from worsening droughts due to global climate change, face familial abuse, are born with drug get the idea. 

So why the heck is this event marked as a feast day of the church? Seems like fasting, sackcloth, and ashes would be more appropriate. 

That is the beauty of Christianity. It pulls no punches. Life can get ugly. Children die by the thousands. There are always people clinging to power, or their source of wealth, or who disregard/disrespect other people, or who just don’t care about the common good. But it is precisely into this miserable scene that God stepped in, put on flesh, and dwelt among us. God’s power comes from the deep love God has for the world. God’s wealth is grace. God’s regard brings forgiveness. God’s compassion is upon God’s people and whole creation. 

Yes, the shadow of the cross lies over the stories of the dead deacon, over the slaughtered babies, over the hurried race in the darkness to Egypt for safety. We can let this darkness into our celebration of Christmas because we know that God’s light in Jesus shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

How to Find Us

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245