It is freezing cold today. I look out the window at the falling snow—always falling these last few days. My fingertips do not move as quickly, and I feel a cold breeze, even inside. I shiver.
But it is more than the bitterness outside that leaves me feeling uncomfortable, filled with unrest.
On the second day of Christmas, we celebrate a martyr.
December 25, the birth of Christ. December 26, St. Stephen, protomartyr.
The magic and warmth and peace that fills Christmas morning seems shadowed, darkened, by this day. I remind myself that “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 116) I remember that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” (Tertullian) I read in Acts this morning that even as he was still alive on this earth, Stephen saw the heavens open and the Lord standing there, perhaps with his arms open, welcoming His faithful servant home.
We might look on St. Stephen and see in him a great hero, which he was. We see in him the beginning of the Church, one of the first deacons, a man who evangelized the nations and taught the people.
But all I can see is his death.
A brother, a father, a mother. All lost by different friends at the end of this year. Two of those deaths were entirely unexpected, like the thief in the night.
My babies are napping upstairs. Only one of them is actually sleeping. I can hear the other little voice, talking to her dolls, her stuffed Star Wars droid, and her ballet shoes. Christmas for her was full of excitement and squeals. She hardly paused to look at one gift before she was ready to open another, whether it was addressed to her or not.
We had chocolate tahini rolls and coffee and salmon and orange hollandaise sauce. We played with new trains, read new books, and scooped many new (fake) ice cream cones. We lit candles and sang songs.
On that morning, it is easy to tell my daughter how full and hopeful all of this is.
But in the afternoon, a text came. My dear friend lost her father. So unexpected, so sudden. On Christmas day.
The afternoon seemed colder, darker. The harsh winds blew snow in great gusts up the sides of the house, across the recently-shoveled walks. Where is the Christ child now? Where is the thrill of hope, the rejoicing in a weary world?
The world simply seems wearier.
There are no easy answers for martyrdoms or deaths, for loss and grief. Somehow even on Christmas morning, the warmth of the stable and the brilliant light of the star can still seem so cold and so dark.
We had mass in our home on Christmas afternoon. A friend, a priest, who remained in town came over and brought Christ into our home. We offered the sacrifice for the soul of the departed. The light was waning and the shadows growing longer. Even on this day that should be so light but was still so dark, we sang “Glory to God,” and “Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
And all I can think of, again and again, is this:
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1)
It seems so foolish to hope on a day like St. Stephen’s Day. It seems so foolish to hope, even, on Christmas Day, when death and darkness press in all around us. My reason cannot answer all of my questions. It can’t even put them to rest, unanswered.
I need foolishness, and the foolishness of hope that Christmas invites us into.
A little baby is God, incarnate. Foolishness. The Savior of the World, lying in a manger. Angels appearing to shepherds. A virgin giving birth to a son.
A cross of wood redeeming the world. Death leading to life eternal.
Small wafers held in a human’s hand becoming Christ’s body. Wine sipped from a silver cup filling the soul with divine life.
All such foolishness.
But in a dying world, where else would we go?
“You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6)