I’ve been profiting from this Lenten Devotional.
Bruce Benedict, of Christ the King Presbyterian Church (Raleigh – PCA), has another great list of helpful resources for celebrating the season of Lent, and for helping churches focus on Jesus in a special way during this special season.
Today is St. Stephen’s Day, a fact most Reformed folks would be blissfully ignorant of. As I’ve become more aware of the traditional pattern of the church year, I’ve been musing on the practical wisdom of following the liturgical year. First, some background. St. Stephen’s Day commemorates (quite obviously) Stephen, the first martyr of the church (see Acts 7). Also, “Because St. Stephen was the first Deacon, and because one of the Deacons’ role in the Church is to care for the poor, St. Stephen’s Day is often the day for giving food, money, and other items to servants, sevice workers, and the needy (it is known as “Boxing Day” in some English-speaking parts of the world).” [HT – fisheaters.com] I want to suggest two benefits to observing St. Stephen’s Day, one practical and one theological.
Practically, observing “Boxing Day” returns us to the deep meaning of Christmas. Traditionally, Christian took “boxes” of food and gifts to the needy in response to God’s Gift(s). Being made in the “image of God” we are to imitate the Father, and all good gifts come from Him (James 1:17). What better way to show our thankfulness for all that we have been given (just yesterday!) by turning around and intentionally giving to those who have less? There’s no better remedy for the self-centered “Christmas blues” than to reach out to others in humble service. Yesterday evening, our family took a meal and a gift to an elderly friend of ours who really has no family or community. She lives in near-poverty, with bad health, and was alone on Christmas. It made Christmas night a special time for her and for our family. I want my children to associate Christmas with giving, in a really tangible way, rather than just with receiving. (Had we planned better, we would be out doing something similar today, but that is an eschatalogical goal for next year!) But, since we are paying more careful attention to the church calendar, we will have a yearly reminder to stay focused on the Gift of the Incarnation, rather than just returning to life as usual.
Theologically, St. Stephen’s Day reminds us that we are in the midst of a war. Christ came as a tiny babe, meek and mild, in His first Advent. In His second Advent, He will come with a bright two-edged sword and will destroy his enemies (Rev. 19:11-21). Jesus Christ came to bring “peace on earth,” but it is the peace of the Gospel. For those who oppose the Gospel (the good news about Jesus the Messiah), there will be no peace. The Gospel offends sinful men who refuse to submit to their rightful King. For this reason, Jesus also came to bring a sword of division: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword … ” (Matt. 10:34–take a minute to read the rest of the passage!) St. Stephen discovered the truth of these sobering words. He accepted God’s Gift, and paid for it with his life. Remembering St. Stephen on this day reminds us of the reality of the spiritual warfare we live in. Recalling St. Stephen’s faithful example of martyrdom should fortify us to follow Christ the King, wherever He may lead. As He told us, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). May we be like Stephen, and lose our lives for the King, only to find them again!
Collect for the Day
GRANT, O Lord, that, in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may stedfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those who suffer for thee. our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.
Bruce Benedict has some good thoughts (and examples) of the “Nunc Dimittis”or “Song of Simeon,” one of the “Songs of the Incarnation,” which should be sung during this Advent season.
Rev. Daniel Hyde (Oceanside United Reformed Church) has a good overview of a Reformed perspective on the usefulness and propriety of recognizing Advent. Hyde’s article, “Lutheran Puritanism? Adiaphora in Lutheran Orthodoxy and Possible Commonalities in Reformed Orthodoxy,” which includes a relevant section, be found in the American Theological Journal.
I have an advance copy of John Armstrong’s newest book. It looks spot on so far. Armstrong is a Reformed teacher, with over 20 yrs. of pastoral experience. He now heads ACT 3, and I really need to check otu their web-site.
I haven’t read much of the book, but I like it already. Here’s the outline of Par 1 to whet your appetite:
The Biblical & Historical Basis for Christian Unity
1. the road to the future
2. my journey to catholicity begins
3. searching for the elusive truth
4. the jesus prayer for our unity
5. our greatest apologetic
6. christ the center
7. the four classical marks of the church
It looks like Armstrong is going to present a clear brief on what “reformed catholicity” might look like. Check back for reviews!
I found this article quite helpful in developing a Reformed Catholic view of Halloween – “Is Halloween a Witches’ Brew?” by Harold L. Myra.