After the joy and bustle of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we often turn our eyes toward the next holiday on the calendar: New Year’s Eve. But the church calendar has a few important feast days that you should consider observing before we say goodbye to 2018.
December 26: The Feast of Saint Stephen, Deacon & Martyr
Saint Stephen is celebrated as the first deacon of the church, and also its first martyr — he is also the patron saint after whom our Cathedral is named. The Book of Acts (chapters 6-7) tells us that Stephen was appointed as a deacon to assist the apostles in ministering to the needs of those in the church. He is described as having “the face of an angel” and also being “full of grace and power.” Acts describes Stephen’s martyrdom after preaching before the Council in Jerusalem; before his death, Stephen saw a vision of Christ at the right hand of the Father in heaven, and he prayed that his persecutors would be forgiven.
The martyrdom of Stephen caused many in the early Christian community in Jerusalem to flee to other parts of the world, bringing the Good News with them wherever they went.
This is an especially suitable day to pray for deacons and preachers.
We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.
Collect for the Feast of St. Stephen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 237)
December 27: The Feast of Saint John, Apostle & Evangelist
John the Evangelist is celebrated as the author of the Gospel of John and the three Epistles of John, and as a close companion of Our Lord during his time on earth. Along with his brother James, and Peter, John was chosen by Jesus to be present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration, and in the garden of Gethsemane.
John’s gospel is noteworthy for having a different perspective from the other three gospels — instead of focusing on the parables of Jesus, it unveils a divine Jesus through the display of “signs” and through allegories. The Gospel of John is also noted for having the most widely-known passage of Christian scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
This is an especially suitable day to pray for theologians and evangelists.
Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Collect for the Feast of St. John the Apostle (Book of Common Prayer, p.238)
December 28: The Holy Innocents
On this day, we commemorate the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. The Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 2:13-18) tells the horrific tale of how King Herod, terrified of losing his throne to the recently-born Jesus, ordered the murder of all male children under two years of age in and around Bethlehem. The Holy Family escaped this massacre, having been warned to leave Bethlehem in a dream.
The commemoration of this sad event dates back to at least 480 AD, and probably earlier. The church honors these innocents victims as martyrs. Even today, children often fall victim to violence caused by political strife or uncertainty. This is an especially suitable day to pray for children and for the victims of violence throughout the world.
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Collect for the Holy Innocents (Book of Common Prayer, p.238)