Happy 4th day of Christmas! The 12-day season of Christmas runs from Christmas Day to Epiphany (Jan 6), when we remember the arrival of the Magi to the child Jesus. This is a season of feasting, gifts, and celebrations with friends as we reflect on the incarnation of Jesus and the inbreaking of God's kingdom.
But these days also bring a sobering reminder that following Jesus has always been costly. The first four days of Christmas commemorate the deaths of Saint Stephen (the first Christian martyr, Acts 7:54-60); John the Beloved Disciple, who survived attempted poisoning, boiling alive, and banishment to the Isle of Patmos; the "Holy Innocents," those children slaughtered by Herod in his search for the Christ Child (Matthew 2:16-18); and Saint Thomas á Becket, assassinated by the knights of Henry II in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Back in 2019, Esau McCaulley wrote an insightful article on today's Feast of the Holy Innocents that feels even more true today.
Suffering and injustice is a reality of life between the first and second Advent of Jesus. As I preached on Christmas Eve, sometimes the light of Christ seems faint amidst this darkness. Sometimes it seems that empires, "principalities and powers" will rule the day. But all of scripture points toward a day when there will be no more night or sorrow. On Sunday, we will pray this to invite God's light and reign:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, kindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
As we come to the end of another year, I think we are all probably longing for more light. One practical way to welcome this light is to set aside time for intentional reflection. We can invite the Holy Spirit to bring clarity, truth, and insight to our memories of the year past and our hopes for the year ahead.
There are a few tools I've used in the past to help shape this kind of year-end reflection. One is a simple examen, a reflective way of praying developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Normally the examen is prayed daily as a way of reviewing the day with God, but it can easily serve as a framework for reviewing the year. A simple yearly examen is available here. On Sunday, we will offer a time for similar reflection during our Prayers of the People.
If you are interested in a longer, more in-depth reflection, this Great Annual Examen is a wonderful resource which you can adapt as needed to your time and circumstances. You may wish to spread this reflection over a few days, or to share the practice with a trusted friend. I've used this resource for several years and always find it helpful.
Finally, I encourage you in the coming year to seek out Christian community — people with whom to seek and celebrate the light of Christ. Our small groups provide simple opportunities for a weekly meal and prayer together; they will open soon, and I encourage you to sign up!
A few quick reminders:
Church on Sunday is at 3:30pm at Greenbrier Baptist — NOTE THE DIFFERENT TIME AND PLACE!
Our wardens, Tom Pienaar and Nancy Sung, wrote a wonderful year-end update!
If you are struggling to glimpse the light in this often-difficult holiday season; if you have lingering questions from our sermons on the Four Last Things; or if you'd simply like to catch up — please don't hesitate to reach out. I am spending this week praying for each one of you.