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  • Writer's pictureFr. Daniel S.J. Scheid SCP

What is Father Dan Thinking? 12-31-23

Merry Christmas! Christmas and Easter are two feasts that are so important that they’re kept for an octave, or eight-day celebration. Within the octave of Christmas are the major feasts of Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr on December 26th; Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist on December 27th, and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem on December 28th. The feast of Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr on December 29th is also a prominent, though lesser one. January 1st completes the octave with the major feast of the Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Christmas season proper ends at twelfth night, or January 5th, the day before the major feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ, January 6th. Some, like us, keep the Incarnational cycle through the major feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, February 2nd.

 

Saint Stephen’s Day and Holy Innocents’ Day are always jarring – and Becket’s Day, too – in that we remember the brutality of their deaths within the joy of Christmas-tide. These few days of whiplash are rather like our lives, most of the time. Endless bliss comes only in heaven; on earth we suffer pain and endure struggle amid God’s great gifts of life and love.

 

Sometimes pain and struggle come not in presence, but in absence. As I preached on Saint Stephen’s Day, in these modern times in our most secular city, we Christians, even the most “out” of us, simply don’t face the persecution or hostility that Stephen did from his observant and pious captors (the pharisee Saul, soon to become the apostle Paul, the most prominent). Nor are we in danger like the martyrs of the first few centuries of the church. The faith and witness of the martyrs rubbed the powerful the wrong way, and it cost them their lives. (--And as an outsider looking in, I suspect the overt anti-Semitism since October 7th , and of the past several years, has more to do with post-WWII geo-politics and centuries of cruel anthropology than it does with Jewish religious practice per se.) 

 

Christians in San Francisco might get the odd insult tossed our way, but nearly always people ignore our faith, or think we’re strange, even if they otherwise respect us and call us friends. As a professionally out and observant Christian, I know this is true for me; I expect it is true for you, too, when, for example, you mention that you go to church – “You. Actually. Go. To church?!?”

 

It is that absence that is a telling kind of persecution. We no longer matter enough to get anyone excited by our faith and witness, and so we die not by stone or sword but by benign neglect. Demographic data – statistics and trends and projections – suggest a bleak future for our denomination. And maybe that’s true. But it needn’t be.

 

There is a great desire for good news. Have you ever complained about the news media, “Can’t they report something good for a change?” (I went so far as to cancel my Michigan Radio NPR subscription a few years ago; I couldn’t take the incessant echo chamber, the drumbeat of disaster, hour after hour, no matter the quality of the journalism.) The occasional human-interest story, or a report of the triumph of human decency, despite the odds, is soothing salve for my soul. It gives me hope, amid the toll of violence and greed, international and interpersonal, that otherwise fills column-inch after column-inch of the newspapers I read.

 

The Incarnation, Christmas, the Word-made-flesh of the Son of God in Jesus of Nazareth is Good News. So is Easter. These are the Truths of God’s great love for us; a love so great as to become one of us. To live and die and rise. To the modern, secular, scientific mind these Truths seem but a myth, an idle tale, an opiate for the masses. But aren’t we moderns, living in a secular world, and committed to the truths of science? And aren’t we at the same time people of faith and witness?

 

We have Good News to share, Good News that may upset the powerful (ought to terrify them, if they’re paying any attention!) and, more to the point, Good News that brings hope and helps make some kind of sense of what otherwise seems senseless. I don’t think God’s done with All Saints’ and the Episcopal Church yet.

 

God’s blessings and peace, into the new year,              

 

Dan+

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