Remembering Remembrances

Holidays can be hard for lots of people for lots of reasons. The long memory of the church recognizes this, even if the current incarnation of the church falls short of this at times. In songs and days of remembrance, the church attends to the reality of our lives when culture would otherwise pretend that all is well, even though it isn't.

Coventry Carol

The days after Christmas day are filled with days of remembrance, and most of them days our culture of forced happiness would have us forget. The following dates are for the Western part of the church, as the Eastern part of the church follows a different calendar, but still remembers all of the following occasions.

The second day of Christmas, December 26th, is Stephen's Day. You remember Stephen, don't you? He's the first martyr in Acts, stoned to death for proclaiming the gospel in word and deed while seeing to the distribution of food for the widows and orphans (Acts 6-7).

The third day of Christmas, December 27th, is John the Apostle's Day. Surely you remember John? You know, the one from all of Jesus' followers charged with taking care of Mary, Jesus' mother, as he was hanging on the cross (John 19:27).

The fourth day of Christmas, December 28th, is when the church in the West remembers the Holy Innocents. You know this group. They're the children who were killed by Herod in a fit of rage for being in and around Bethlehem, two years old or younger, and Jewish (Matthew 2). This one, in particular, has been remembered in song--the Coventry Carol:

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, bye-bye, lully lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do for to preserve this day this poor youngling for whom we sing bye-bye, lully lullay?

Herod the King, in his raging charged he hath this day his men of might, in his own sight, all young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child for thee! And every morn and day, for they parting nor say nor sing bye-bye, lully lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, bye-bye, lully lullay.

-- Words: Coventray carol, 15th cent.; #247 fromThe Hymnal 1982, 1985

The eight day of Christmas, January 1st, has lots of names other than New Year's Day, but is the day when the Western church remembers Mary and Jesus being presented at the Temple according to Jewish law (Luke 2:21-39). On this occasion, the church remembers not only the naming of Jesus and the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph, but also hope alive in old age as Simeon and Anna see and witness to the fulfillment of their faith in the infant Jesus, including a foreboding warning for Mary. This story is summed up in Simeon's words, which the church has long had set to music.

Hark the Glad Sound

Into the pain and grief of holiday celebrations comes the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus, not as a quick fix to make everything better, like a magical kiss on a booboo from your mother. Jesus comes into our lives, broken as they are by grief and pain, by loss and suffering, so that the Spirit might fill us with hope and faith in the promise of God's love, so that we might sing with Simeon and prophecy with Anna, serve with Stephen and provide with John, in the face of those things that grieve and pain us. For in the midst of our remembrance of Jesus' birth, we also remember his death. And our death. 

Hark, the glad sound! The Savior comes, the Savior promised long; let ev'ry heart prepare a throne and ev'ry voice a song.

He comes the pris'ners to release, in Satan's bondage held. The gates of brass before him burst, the iron fetters yield.

He comes the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure, and with the treasures of his grace to enrich the humble poor.

Our glad hosanas, Prince of peace, your welcome shall proclaim, and heav'n's eternal arches ring with your beloved name.

-- Words: Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751; #239 from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 2006

Of the Father's Love Begotten

Jesus has come that we might grieve and still sing in faith, that we might suffer and still serve in love, that we who are broken might be redeemed.

Of the Father's love begotten ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore.

Oh, that birth forever blessed, when the virgin, full of grace, by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race, and the babe, the world's redeemer, first revealed his sacred face, evermore and evermore.

This is he whom seers in old time changed of with one accord, whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word; now he shines, the long-expected; let creation praise its Lord evermore and evermore.

Let the heights of heav'n adore him; angel hosts, his praises sing; pow'rs, dominions, bow before him and extol our God and King; let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring evermore and evermore.

-- Words: Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 348-413; tr. composite; #295 from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 2006


To those of you who have the honor and privilege of preaching during these days of Christmas: remember the remembrances.

To those of you who suffer and hurt when the culture around you insists you should be happy: remember the remembrances.

To those of you who live in a broken and sin filled world: remember the remembrances.

The long memory of the church points to God at work in the midst of this broken world. Because of what God has done in becoming one of us in Jesus, God knows that before we can fully celebrate, we have to mourn. In the fullness of the Gospel, God gives us life through death, and in the face of death, remains faithful. For those who suffer and grieve this holiday season, let us, the church, know, so we might grieve with you, so that in the end, we might also celebrate with you.

Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.