Today, is Stephen’s Day, although its more commonly called Boxing Day. In a homily for the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, whom we celebrate at Mass at noon, we ask what are the remnants of Christmas Day?
Today, outside the houses of many people sits the debris of Christmas Day. The exchange of gifts creates tonnes of disposable packaging, reams of wrapping paper and cardboard boxes, and the festivities will have created quite a few empty bottles and cans.
What are the remnants of Christmas Day? For some it may mean patching up things caused by a family disagreement in the midst of tension and sometimes too much alcohol. Or it may mean walking off a few pounds put on from a little over-indulgence or counting the pennies or checking the bank balance or the gas meter to get us through to the next pay day. For others, Boxing Day will indicate for them that it’s time to move on from Christmas and remove the decorations and the tree which has been shedding its needles for some time now. Yes, there will be many remnants of Christmas Day.
But what, as Christians, will we have gained from Christmas Day? What are the remnants of Christmas for us?
Well, of course, for us, our Christmas celebrations are by no means packed up and put away. They extend for days to come yet, each day of these eight days, extending Christmas Day beyond a few hours, , stretching out, suspending time, a glimpse of eternity. Our celebrations, come to their brilliant and light-filled climax in the Feast of the Epiphany.
Just outside Bethlehem, on that hillside where the shepherds received the angel’s message, is a church administered by the Franciscans. When I made pilgrimage there some years ago, there was a rather delightful South American Friar who went around singing Cliff Richard’s ‘Christmas Time, Mistletoe and wine,’ whilst proclaiming that ‘Here, every day is Christmas Day!’
The Incarnation and the birth of Christ is not, and can never be, a past event. In a sermon of St Fulgentius of Ruspse on this day, he said “Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity.
The Incarnation and the birth of Christ is not, and can never be, a past event
When St Paul wrote of that great trinity of Faith, Hope and Love, he declared Love to be the greatest of the three. ‘Love never ends,’ he says.
Which is why, hot on the heels of Christmas Day, within the Christmas Octave, falls the feast of St Stephen, who was armed with the weapon of love. It filled his service of the poor, his preaching to his persecutors, his words of forgiveness as he fell, and helped to convert St Paul the persecutor into a follower of Jesus. This feast reveals to us the cost of Love, the power of Love, the assurances of Love. It reveals what Love can sometimes demand of us, and how it enables us to give in to those demands, to surrender ourselves to God who surrendered himself to us.
“The love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven,” wrote St Fulgentius. “Shown first in the King, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle and so won the crown signified by his name.”
“The love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven,” wrote St Fulgentius.
So, the remnants of Christmas Day and the birth of Christ is Love, and a sharing in the divinity of Christ, as we glimpse what we shall be, when we see God face to face.
St Fulgentius goes on: “Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to Heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.”
So, today, whether or not we take in a Boxing Day walk, we are on a journey, and we are climbing up, along the stairway of Love which Christ created. The new year is almost upon us, and our eyes will soon be focussed on the future. Here, in South Cardiff may Love be our aim, our tool, our weapon, the path upon which we walk, the stairway we climb, our strategy, our vision, our strength and service, stirring us to action, making us fruitful, so that by the next Christmas Day we can look back and say, ‘Yes, Love has conquered, Love has changed us, Love has shown us the way, Love has given us a new and deeper sense of Heaven, and a sharing in the divinity of Christ.
May Love be our aim, our tool, our weapon, the path upon which we walk, the stairway we climb, our strategy, our vision, our strength and service, stirring us to action
It has been a gift that has lasted. It has not gone out of fashion, or been outgrown or suffered from wear and tear, not placed into the bin on our doorstep, but has changed us and shaped us, turned out hearts and lives to others, and led us closer to God and the life of heaven.