Friday, December 26, 2014

On the Feast of Stephen

Here’s a little riddle for you.  What popular Christmas carol never mentions Christmas, and has absolutely no reference to anything remotely connected to the Nativity of Jesus?  Mind you, I am not speaking of any of the secular Christmas songs; the answer must be from the list of religious Christmas carols.

Need a hint?  Think of the feast that we celebrate on December 26.  That should remind you of the Carol “Good King Wenceslaus” who went out “on the feast of Stephen.”  Now go over the lyrics of that carol in your mind and discover that even though it is sung on many Christmas albums and even appears in some hymnals, there is absolutely nothing in the carol that speaks of Christmas.  Instead, the carol speaks of the charity demonstrated by King Wenceslaus and his page boy toward a poor man whom they encounter as they walk together on a stormy evening gathering winter fuel.

In many parts of the world, today is called “Boxing Day.”  Those among us who are fans of sporting events might think this is a reference to an athletic contest involving padded gloves and a canvas ring.  Actually, it refers to a custom that has its origins in a charitable practice, perhaps inspired by this Christmas carol.  Wealthy or more affluent people would box up the leftovers of their Christmas dinners and offer them to the poor on the day after Christmas.  Christmas usually does see many in our society make an effort to relieve the plight of the poor.  We distribute turkeys for hungry people.  Various groups collect toys and offer them to children who would otherwise not have much under the Christmas tree.  Various groups of carolers make their way to nursing homes to entertain people who can no longer care for themselves.  While some complain that Christmas has become far too commercial, there is no gainsaying that it also brings out the best in us as well.

Such charity is admirable, but like so many things is a two-edged sword.  Charity toward the poor should be a year-long effort, not something we do in the month of December.  I am sure that you have received a few donation requests in the mail which remind you that donations made before December 31 can be deducted on your income tax return.  That begs the question whether our charity is our way of reaching out to the poor or is it something we do to keep the government from taking the money?

God loved us so much that God became one of us.  That is the mystery of Christmas.  May your Christmas celebration include being mindful of the needs of the poor, making you a latter-day King Wenceslaus.

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