Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Winston Churchill was reprimanded at one point by Lady Astor for ending a sentence with a preposition. Churchill responded, “This is the kind of thing up with which I will not put.”[i] Well, I’m thinking here about endings, lots of things coming to an unexpected end in our world and in our nation, some of it surprising, or relieving, or galvanizing, or frightening. And this coincides with the church year having just ended. Today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of the new year for the church, Advent being observed the four Sundays prior to Christmas.
Feast of St. Stephen (transferred)
Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15
Acts 6:8- 7:2a, 51c-60
Today we celebrate the feast of Stephen, the day upon which “Good king Wenceslas went out… when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even”. St. Stephen’s Day is actually the day after Christmas, but we’ve transferred it to today. It’s a feast that sits awkwardly in a festive time of year that is otherwise so sugar plummed and Santa-fied, jingled and jangled, tinseled and tangled. The martyrdom of Stephen is our reality check–we go from glory to gory in this “snap out of it” shift. We are reminded that we live “in the meantime”—and the times can be mean.
Christmas is, of course, a celebration of the Incarnation, the birth of God’s own being into this world. It is a festival of life and light: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” [John 1:3-4] We are the continuing presence of this Incarnation in the world, we are the “Body of Christ”, as Paul puts it. We are in him, he is in us, as John puts it. We are the bearers of his light, we are the God bearers, the Christ bearers in this world. We are now his hands, his feet, his eyes in the world, as St. Teresa put it. “Christ has no hands now but yours…,” she reminds us.