The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christ Mass):
The Feast of St. Stephen (Christmas II-Dec. 26):
The Festival of St. John the Apostle (Christmas III-Dec. 27):
Feast of the Holy Innocents (Christmas IV - Dec. 28):
Shocking isn't it? I mean, Christmas is a season of twelve days, and yet it seems right off the bat we remember more people than just Jesus. Shouldn't He be the focus of our attention during this season? Technically, He should be our focus in all seasons. The question is not whether we are looking at Jesus or the Apostle whom He loved...the question for the Christian is, "are we looking at our brothers and sisters and seeing Christ in them?"
Such a question immediately fills us with dread. If we are supposed to be looking for the Holy Son of the Father in our brothers and sisters, that means they should be looking for Christ in us! Now I feel extreme remorse and shame for cutting off the other driver in traffic, or complaining about work! I have failed Jesus! But listen carefully to this fact: you have, but He hasn't. The best thing to remember this season when looking at these martyrs is not that they were excellent models of Christ of their own accord...they weren't. They all were sinners before Christ took them and molded them after His image, repairing the damage the Fall caused them.
Whenever the Scriptures give a commandment, it always seems so hard for us to look at it and follow it. Our sinful nature, the Old Man in us wants desperately to fulfill the Law on our own. It is sin that says, "I can do it!" We then try harder, and fail just the same. It isn't until our sinful self is destroyed by God's grace that we surrender and are broken and rebuilt up. Through faith, God declares us righteous for Christ's sake, but Christ resides in us too. Too often we forget that God hasn't just declared us righteous...He also lives inside of those who are clothed with righteousness, working out His plan for us.
During this season, we see in these martyrs not themselves dying for the faith, but God driving them home in faith. Without Jesus, St. John would be just another fisherman....but with Jesus, he became a Holy Apostle! He had visions, was protected from unnatural death, and taught other Christians about Our Lord! On their own, the Holy Innocents would be just some other Jewish boys, most not likely to be remembered by anyone 100 years after their death. With Christ, they are in glory in Heaven and are remembered by the church universal almost 2000 years after their deaths!
So remember this season, when you fail to fulfill the law, maybe it's because you are trying too hard...for no sinner is made righteous by following the law. Maybe you need to surrender to God's will and humble yourself and worship something as small as the Christ-child...God made flesh. Humble yourself to recognize in innocence and weakness the Immortal God who became a simple child to simple parents and who would one day suffer torture and crucifixion all for the sins of every man, woman, and child who ever lived. God humbled himself to die! Can we then this season and beyond humble ourselves and recognize God in our brothers and sisters by their acts of love, and not hold their sins against them.
I find it interesting how some modern theologians try to put the focus on us and not God. In his movie "Dust," Rob Bell said that it wasn't so important that you believe in God, but that you realize that He believes in you! What tripe! If God believed in us He would not have come down from Heaven and tell us that we must be reborn of water and the Word?! It is because God knows that we have no hope to come to Him alone that He dips down and picks us up and takes us up to Him.
What all the martyrs had is what we must have by God's grace alone...humility to realize that we can't do it alone...we need the help of Christ. As St. Athanasius said, "God became man, so that man may become god." Let us humble ourselves so Christ can make us into His image and let His light shine through us to those who know Him not!
"The Light Eternal, breaking through, Made the world to gleam anew; His beams have pierced the core of night, He makes us children of the light. Alleluia!" - We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth (LSB 382:4)